Delan playing his tambur at Qushtapa refugee camp, Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, October 2013.
Below is a heartwarming story from ShelterBox UK
ShelterBox has helped set up an unlikely ‘friendship by post’ between the UK and a Syrian refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Toby Little from Sheffield, UK has become a global phenomenon with his ‘Writing to the World’ project – now ShelterBox has helped him to exchange letters with Delan Dari, a blind Kurdish Syrian musician.
Governments, diplomats and weapons inspectors wrangle over the Syrian conflict. Meanwhile two children over 2,000 miles apart have started a charming dialogue that points the way to peace.
5-year-old Toby Little and 11-year-old Delan Dari have been brought together by ShelterBox, the international disaster relief charity aiming to raise enough funds to help up to 5,000 more Syrian Refugee families before the harsh winter sets in.
Primary pupil Toby Little from Sheffield found an original way to fill his summer holidays – by sending handwritten letters to people in every country in the world. He’s written 321 letters to all 193 UN countries, and received 114 replies so far. But more than that, Toby has drawn the attention of broadcasters and journalists worldwide, as his ‘Writing to the World’ website became an international media marvel. His simple but engaging ‘global pen-pal’ project has been featured in TV interviews, online articles and newspapers on every continent.
Toby is also using his growing fame to raise funds for ShelterBox, via his own JustGiving site
‘I am writing to anybody who can write back, but many people can’t even buy a stamp, they can’t even buy food!’ said Toby. ‘ShelterBox helps by sending special boxes to countries where people need them. A ShelterBox has lots of things in it to help a family, like a tent and tools, and things to make the water clean, and even toys for children. A whole box costs £590, and that’s my target.’
Toby writing his letters to the world, 2013.
Toby so quickly exceeded this original target he now has five ShelterBoxes as his latest aim, and the money is still pouring in.
A child hero on a much smaller stage is Delan Dari. Delan’s family comes from Al-Hassakeh, one of Syria’s largest cities, but they were forced to flee the conflict and are now living under canvas in Qushtapa refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan. Blind from birth, Delan is a gifted musician, playing the tambur and composing his own music and lyrics. Amid the bleakness of the refugee camp he has become something of a celebrity, entertaining other families with impromptu evening concerts.
Back in Syria Delan faced discrimination. After he played Kurdish songs with patriotic themes at a festival, extremists stopped him from attending music school. His tambur is old and battered, and clearly a favoured possession. Delan’s father says he is very sensitive and if he doesn’t play and sing every day he becomes nervous.
‘I am very sad about what is going on in my country,’ said Delan. ‘I miss it.’
Among his touching self-composed lyrics are: ‘Don’t make me cry for the past because we have suffered a lot. Let us look to the future.’
With pride Delan holds up a hand written letter from Toby Little, the friend he has never met. It has been brought to Delan by ShelterBox in a departure from their usual aid deliveries.
Toby wrote, ‘Dear Delan, how are you? I am sorry you had to leave your home. Are you okay? Is it hard playing the tambur? What do you write your songs about?’
Delan with his father and the letter Toby wrote to him, Qushtapa refugee camp, Iraqi Kurdistan, October 2013.
With the help of the ShelterBox team and a translator, Delan gave this reply: ‘Hi Toby, my warm greetings to you. I’m very happy to receive your letter which supported me a lot. I hope that I’m going to be an international artist. I wish you a nice future, and that we are going to be friends for years. Keep in touch.’
ShelterBox’s Head of Fundraising and Communicaitons Becky Maynard, who has just returned from a deployment to distribute school materials to refugee camps in Kurdistan, said, ‘It was a great privilege to meet Delan and his family, and to see their pride in the letter they received from Toby.’
‘The things we take for granted for our children – contact with the outside world, proper schooling, shelter from heat and cold – are often missing from these young refugee lives. ShelterBox is doing all it can to give these extraordinary and resilient families some hope of a brighter future.’
You can help Shelterbox Australia help bring shelter and safety to Syrian families fleeing conflict, please donate and help us make a difference.