The Nest Builders

AMURT CFS training
Staff training for AMURT’s Child Friendly Space for Syrian refugee children

This is a story I wrote for Syrian refugee children. I was invited to Lebanon in the spring of 2014 to give a training for the staff of a “Child Friendly Space” program that AMURT was initiating. It was my first trip to the Middle East and we were staying in an area that was predominantly run by people from the “Dru” religion. It was beautiful and I was very impressed – by the warmth of the people, beauty of the landscape, history and culture…not to mention the wonderful food…But I was also deeply touched by the plight of the Syrian refugees – most of whom were middle class business owners, or even rich landowners that now found themselves displaced and in atrociously impoverished, overcrowded, unheated conditions.  I wrote this story while on the trip to Lebanon – I missed a connecting flight and spent about 12 hours in the Istanbul airport.  At that point, I hadn’t yet met any of the refugees – I was just researching and reading everything I could find online about their situation. So the next day, when I began the workshop – I wasn’t sure if the story would resonate…but by the time the birds squeeze into the crack in the building – several of the Syrian participants started to say excitedly “Oh – it’s just like what happened to us!! What will happen now?”. The story is one that is designed both to reflect, using metaphor, the situation of having to leave a dangerous place (the bombing in Syria) and also one of hope….and nest building…

The story was told using an improvised flannel board method – the cutouts were created by a little girl that was there with her mother.

Once there was a beautiful forest, dense with ancient cedar trees,  thick with fragrant, feathery dark green leaves. There were many, many golden bellied birds living in the trees. Two birds had been busily gathering twigs from the abundant forest to build their nests and start a new family. Soon the mother bird laid five tiny blue eggs and soon, five baby birds were born. The family was very happy, and every day just before the sunrise, they sang the traditional song of the forest birds for welcoming the new day and greeting the sun.

“The morning sun has risen, all the birds are singing, let’s sing together as one and greet the newborn sun, sing together as one and greet the newborn sun”
Then mother and father bird would fly off into the forest to gather cedar berries for the  little one and twigs for their nest.

One night, a crackling sound woke up the birds. The air was thick with smoke and flames were everywhere. All of the birds in the forest were flying away and the family joined them. It was hard for the baby birds to keep up and in the smoky air it was hard to see. The mother and father frequently stopped to rest on a branch but only a few minutes because the flames were still everywhere and it wasn’t safe. Finally they left the forest and entered a strange new land. There were no trees and it was night time. The bird family were all so tired from their journey to escape the forest fire. Big drops of rain started to fall from the sky. They could not find a tree, but they found a building with a crack in the wall just big enough for all seven to enter. It was a very small space and they had to squeeze to get inside. It was uncomfortable and dirty, but they were safe and grateful to be together.
The next morning, just before the sunrise, the bird family woke up and as they did every morning – they went outside to sing and greet the sun.
“The morning sun has risen, all the birds are singing, let’s sing together as one and greet the newborn sun, sing together as one and greet the newborn sun”.
The angels in the sky smiled and the sun was pleased by the beautiful song of the birds, sending golden rays which dried the rain from their feathers, warming them up after the cold night. In the forest, thousands of birds sang together to greet the sun, but here they were very few. Still the bird family sang bravely together.  They sang to the beginning of a new day.  Their beautiful song woke up the little children sleeping inside the houses of the city. They ran outside to listen to the beautiful birdsong. Then they ran back inside to find some bits of bread to share with the birds so that they would stay and keep singing.
The improvised illustrations...
The improvised illustrations…

The mother and father bird then flew off to gather berries and twigs for their nest. It wasn’t as easy to find twigs in the city as it had been in their lovely forest. But they kept gathering scraps and bits of twigs wherever they could find them and soon they had enough to build another nest on top of the roof of the house of some of the children they had  become friends with.  It wasn’t the same as their nest in the forest and they missed the shady leaves and beautiful scent of cedar trees. But their new nest was clean and safe and they were happy to be altogether. Every morning they sang their song to the sun and the city was filled with the joyful singing of birds.