At 6:00 p.m. on June 23, 2017, some fellow Tzu Chi volunteers and I arrived in a 9-seat van at the Arna-vutköy Merkez Bus Station in Istanbul, Turkey. We were there to pick up Alaaddin and his son, Ali. They had just gotten off work. We were visiting their family that day.
A Syrian volunteer helped Ali, 7, into the van.
“Wait. Where’s my dad?” Ali asked anxiously.
“I must sit by him. He can’t see!”
The volunteers helped Alaaddin, who was blind, board the van and made sure that the father and son sat together.
When we reached their home, Ali put his hand on his father’s head to protect him from bumping it as they got out of the vehicle. Then he took his father’s hand in his and led him up the stairs of an old apartment building.
The stairwell was small, the steps were uneven and rough, and the walls were damp. It was also quite dark, so dark that Osama, one of my fellow volunteers, said he could barely see where he was going. He wondered how Ali and Alaaddin managed this difficult task every day.
They lived on the top floor. After sitting his father in the living room, Ali went into a bedroom and picked up his sister, barely one year old, from his mother. Ali carried his sister to the living room to meet the visitors.
As was customary in the Muslim world, Ali’s mother stayed in her bedroom during our visit so she would not be seen by the male strangers. That’s why we could not visit the family until Alaaddin, the man of the house, had gotten off work. Male volunteers could not visit unless the man of the house was at home.
Alaaddin and his family are one of the 732 households that Tzu Chi volunteers in Turkey provide aid to every month.
The family smuggled themselves into Turkey from Syria in 2014. Alaaddin had wanted to leave Syria so that his children could have a shot at a better future. He was grateful to many people who had helped them along the way, including a Turkish military police officer who looked the other way so he and his family would not be taken into custody.
Now in Turkey, Ali accompanies his dad every day to peddle bottled water and tissues on the streets. By his actions, Alaaddin is showing Ali how not to be defeated by poverty and how to do their best to make an honest living.
As I listened to Alaaddin tell us his story, my tears wetted the viewfinder of my camera. Who in his right mind would put the lives of his family on the line to attempt to flee his hometown and settle in a strange nation? Nobody would—unless the alternative would have been much harder to swallow.
We have heard many sad stories from Syrian refugees. Their experiences bring to mind life’s impermanence. But their stories also remind us that we are fellow citizens in this global village, and that we should do everything we can to help them through their difficult time.
Article extracted from the Tzu Chi Quarterly (Fall 2017)