And with the final turn of the Robertson screwdriver, the last remnant of our time at GENTLE was removed from the wall and bestowed to its rightful owner ~ the person responsible for the generation of the idea of this incredible concept of newcomer reception for our Syrian families. It was a copy of the first newspaper article written about the Center, which featured the smiling faces of our first family. Little did we know that smiles would soon become one of the most memorable symbols of our work over the next four months!
In looking back over the past four months, one could not possibly select a single event to fully capture the work that was completed as we welcomed over 460 students and met their amazing family members. It was indeed a complex, beautifully crafted tapestry of people, emotion, furniture, multi-coloured wrist bands, late nights, Google Docs, tears and smiles. Smiles on the faces of the families as we shared that their children would be attending school in safe, welcoming and loving environments. I can vividly recall one father who tentatively registered his sons, none of whom had had the opportunity to attend school in Syria as each one of the boys was cognitively delayed. The look on the face of the father as we explained that all of his sons would be welcomed and well taken care of in our congregated classes was priceless. The dad then went and brought one of his sons for us to meet. Smiles ~ on all of our faces. Smiles on the face of one of the moms as she proudly shared the work that her daughters had completed, in English. Smiles on the faces of our community partners as together we created a procedure in which children could be attending GENTLE even before families were given a home. Smiles on the faces of the children as they arrived at GENTLE and were greeted daily by the most incredible, passionate, dedicated group of educators and caring adults. Smiles on their faces as they shared their stories in their first language and then attempted to learn their new language. Smiles on the faces of the family members who accompanied their children and watched them interact with the teachers and their new classmates. Smiles on the faces of the school team members who arrived at GENTLE to meet their new students and who did an incredible job of making each student feel like they were the most precious gift that that school was about to receive. Smiles on the faces of the visitors (and we had quite a few) who immediately sensed that they had been invited into a world like no other.
And in amongst the smiles of everyone else, were the constant smiles on the faces of this team…. The core (or better yet, the beating heart) GENTLE team who weathered each challenge with professionalism, passion and sense of pride in knowing that what we were doing was the right thing for families.
As we close this chapter and look towards our next phase of support for our Syrian families, one can’t help but wipe away a tear or two in amongst all of the smiles.