The Zawaro family from Syria: “Caritas is a blessing, help, love”

Photography: Elitsa Ganeva

The story of the Zawaro family begins in Qamishli, a city in northeastern Syria, located near the Turkish border. The proximity to oil wells and fertile soil make the city an attractive center. There are also many refugees from the wars in the region. Muslims, Kurds, Christians, Armenians and Jews – the ethnic picture is multi-colored. Ultimate moods and political controversy, however, give rise to frequent conflicts that have made many sacrifices over the years, and since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011, suicide bombings, truck explosions in busy places in the city, abductions of travelers of intercity buses.

For the Zawaro family, their desolate neighborhood, the limited access to school for their children, the constant fear of new explosions, they make up the list of reasons to leave their homeland. The solution is difficult but definite. In 2015, they leave for Lebanon. They stay for a while in Beirut, where they travel to Turkey. They spend one year in Istanbul, by the summer of 2016. Fortunately, fate is kind to them – the same summer a truck and a motorcycle with explosives exploded in downtown of Qamishli. More than 50 people were killed. But the Zawaro family is already far from the conflict and is determined to continue to seek security and protection in Europe. In June 2016, they arrived in Bulgaria, were transferred to the Border Police and wished to be accommodated in a refugee camp. So they arrived in Harmanli. It is where they learned about Caritas and the support that organization provides to people in their situation.

In Caritas, the family finds comfort, a hand out for help they thought was lost while in their homeland. Sarine, George and their daughter Angelina are extremely emotional. Apart from deep gratitude to Caritas, Sarine, who has Armenian background, is happy to have an Armenian community here. Meanwhile, she visited the Catholic cathedral in Sofia. She admits that she did not understand the language of worship, but she did her prayers in the language of her heart. She has arrived to this strange country, silently praying to God – in the Catholic Church, in the Armenian Church, under the Bulgarian sky, where she does not know yet if there is a future for her family. But she has her hope. She has the support and love of Caritas associates who have led them through the administrative chaos as long as they wait for months to wait for status.

Sarine is delighted that the days go smoothly because she realizes that the safety and health of her family are at the forefront. He is glad there is someone to advocate for them. But her eyes exude pain and fatigue:„Our relatives, our neighbors, all, one by one, started to leave. We lived in fear every second – whether there would be an explosion or something else. Two blocks away, there was an armed guard. We were all afraid. We have reached a point where we could no longer live this way. We had hoped so much that things would get better and the war would end, but it never happened. We collapsed mentally from the oppressive setting. Our daughter suffered the most. This forced us to leave Syria.”

In his homeland, George was a merchant – he had a fabric store, and years ago he sold children’s clothing. He is sociable and sweet-tempered. He speaks Kurdish, Armenian and Italian. He stayed for a short time in Canada and the United States, where he knew English and a little French. He tells his wife cared well for their household. Their relationship is exuding love, mutual understanding and a sense of humor – a sign that their family has the power to overcome difficulties and to pass through them together.

Sarine says that once they arrived here, they started to learn Bulgarian at the courses of Caritas Sofia. She is well aware that she needs to gain new skills and work to help her family: „First of all, I want to recover mentally from the experience, from leaving home, then – I hope I will feel physically better and will be ready to start my life again. I still do not know the language well. It is very difficult. Caritas helps us. It is good when you know someone is helping you. It makes you psychologically easier and you feel that you are not alone. When we came to Caritas Sofia and talked to the people here, we felt much better. For us this is an unfamiliar country, and so the organization’s help is of great importance. It was agony before, I have cried out my eyes. We did not know anyone, we did not know whom to address. Now it is different, much better. I thank God that Caritas helps us until we get the status. Without status – we are unemployed.”

Bulgarian lessons were also attended by George, who already confidently addresses in Bulgarian and knows key phrases. Their daughter Angelina shares her time between language lessons and women’s art at St. Anna Centre with Caritas Sofia. Caritas’ activities are tailored to the needs of the family to integrate and gain the social contacts, the necessary knowledge and skills to re-start their lives in Bulgaria. Asked what they dream most about at the moment, family members share:
Angelina: “I wish my country to recover and to become again as I remember it. I hope to continue my education and I dream of resuming my hobby again – playing a violin. I want to develop. To live like any other in this country.”

Sarine: “For now, I dream of settling here, my family, my daughter, my son and his family, all of us to get together. Let us live here and be successful.”

Part of George seems to have never left Syria. He often thinks of his home, his fabric store, his neighbors, his past Sunday school teacher, his students who are proud of his late father: “My father told me” You will be more respectful, You will tell the truth and you will be a good man!”, so he was talking to me and I am very proud of him and of what he has taught me. I myself was an English language teacher at the Sunday School at the church in my hometown. I was a volunteer. One of my students even became a priest in Lebanon. I’m very proud of it.”

Now goodness and help seem to pay back to George and his family – through the help of Caritas. Asked how they perceive Caritas, the Zawaro family are unanimous: “God bless you! For us Caritas is a blessing, help, we are so grateful for them,” says Sarine, and George adds: “Caritas means peace, help for the people in trouble. We appreciate their help and we will always be grateful for it.”

Now the Zawaro family want to forget the painful memories of the past and move on: “We want to learn new things, want to work, live as normal citizens. We cannot stay away from life,” Sarine says.