Syrian folk tales to help ease refugee angst in Greece

Syrian folk tales to help ease refugee angst in Greece

THESSALONIKI – Agence France-Presse
Syrian folk tales to help ease refugee angst in Greece

AFP photo

A Greek theater troop has created a unique fairytale based on traditional Syrian folk tales in a production aimed at entertaining thousands of refugee children stranded in the country.

A multinational team of 70 people, among them illustrators, translators and actors from the Mermix theater company, worked together on the fable, which is called “The Journey of Halima.”
“We did research on 40 folk tales and there are many characters familiar to refugees,” said Nikos Kalaitzidis, a costume designer and one of the founders of the project which was put together in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

“These children have nothing to read,” he said at a home for unaccompanied minors. “Even teachers who have begun classes for them have no material to give them.” 

Aimed at primary school age, the story centers on the character of Halima, a young girl from the Land of the Sun who embarks on a mission to restore rain to her arid homeland, armed with just a lemon, a pouch of salt and a blank sheet of paper.

Spread across five chapters, it evokes a journey across the Middle East that the refugees themselves undertook to reach Europe.

“This story is quite similar to our own journey,” said Assad, a 40-year-old father of four from Syria who attended a recent reading by the actors in Thessaloniki.

Written in Arabic, Farsi and English, the 72-page fairytale currently available to download free of charge on the group’s website,

So far, members of the Mermix theater troupe have visited camps around Thessaloniki to read out the story. But their aim is to eventually be able to put on a theatrical performance.

“A lot of people helped to put this book into your hands,” the tale begins. “Their only common trait is that they chose not to be afraid and to feel more love than hate.” 

Kalaitzidis, who is also a scenographer, said the tale “has no violence... no villain... no kings, princesses or mentions of religion.” 

“We created a story that is modern, multicultural and intercultural,” said actress and playwright Maria Laftsidou.

Organizers now hope to raise enough money to give printed copies to refugee children across Greece.

“We want to print 15,000 copies and hand them out to all the children we believe are currently in Greece,” said Kalaitzidis.

“That will require 60,000 euros. We have raised only a fraction but we are not losing hope,” he said.

There are more than 60,000 refugees and migrants in Greece, stranded in the country for months following the closure of Balkan borders early this year, many of them facing deportation to Turkey. Among them are thousands of children, including around 2,000 who are entirely on their own, many under the age of 8.

The Greek government has announced plans to enroll more than 10,000 refugee children in public schools, but many more are stuck in camps with little to occupy their time.

Funding for the book is being raised through an indiegogo crowd-funding campaign.