The View: From the Mountaintop of Turkey to the Mud of Refugee Camps

Baking bread in the refugee camp — Conscience International Photo

It was 4:30AM Easter morning. Robert Smucker, with two companions on a rare break from their humanitarian work, grabbed head lamps and began the 90-minute trek up the mountain to Kizilhisar Castle. They stopped along the way to watch the sun slowly rise-- streaks of light between the mountains and the clouds with a view of the valley below, a landscape that has turned a light and dark olive green from the spring rains. He led an impromptu Easter sunrise service. For a moment, no one spoke as they watched the sun appear fully in the sky, its bright orange glow signaling the start of a new day and a new hope.

But down below, in the five refugee camps in the Izmir/ Torbali corridor, the scene was not serene at all. Many children were at risk because of poor nutrition and infectious diseases. In a population of some 3700 persons, two hundred children had been born in the last two years, he was told. Many of the women who are not yet twenty years old have already had several children.

Robert, a Conscience International volunteer, was taking his latest of several trips to Turkey, doing electrical work in the camps, trying to make them safer, and supplying needed items for daily life. But his real work, he says, "is to sit with a family over a cup of chai (hot tea) and try to get to know them, mainly through lumbering conversation accessible with the use of a translation app on his iPhone. The issues are many, but the thing the refugees need most is compassion. They have lost homes and family and now sit in no-man's land waiting for whatever comes next.

One day Robert was invited to have a meal with one of the refugee families. They wanted to show their appreciation for the work he was doing. "These people who have very little cooked a meal for someone who has much. When you develop personal relationships with victims of the war in Syria and receive this kind of kindness from them, you begin to feel that maybe there will be peace in this part of the world one day," he said.