An Abbotsford filmmaker has recently returned from the Middle East eager to share an experience that has left him hopeful for a peaceful future for the region.
Adam Wormald, who owns Cassiar Mediaworks, was hired to film a week-long camp in Samandag, Turkey which brought together Turkish and North American youth with displaced Syrians living in the country.
The Building Leaders 4 Peace was put on by a Turkish tourism company, with the goal of fostering relationships and cooperation between different cultures.
There were 35 Syrian, 15 Turkish and 25 North American participants, mostly aged between 17 and 25.
The campers engaged in a variety of workshops and activities, meant to foster leadership skills in the diverse youth. They also spent time doing “service projects,” which included inviting 100 local orphans to the hotel they were staying in and making visits to a hospital, where they met people injured in the seemingly intractable and endlessly deadly conflict only a few kilometres south.
Wormald became involved with the project after emailing a number of people, making known his intention to go to the region. He said he became interested in the refugee crisis a year ago and felt compelled to become involved.
“I felt like I wanted to go closer to it and just experience it first-hand,” he said.
He was put in contact with the camp’s organizers and asked to contribute his filmmaking and storytelling skills to the project.
Wormald spent much of the week behind the lens, but was still moved by the experiences he had there.
He sat down for a number of one-on-one interviews with the camp’s attendees for a series of short films he plans to release in the coming months.
One of the stories he heard stood out for him more than most: one of bravery and heartbreak from a recently graduated archaeology student.
The 23-year-old had volunteered for the Red Crescent (the Red Cross’s Middle Eastern branch). When he wasn’t in class, he was often going to the front lines of the deadly conflict, recovering bodies, digging people out of collapsed buildings and bringing them to mass graves.
When the University of Aleppo was bombed in January 2013 (an attack the U.S. says came from government forces), rather than flee, he became a part of the rescue effort. Some of his best friends were among the 82 students and staff who died that day.
After graduating, the young man was set to be drafted into the army, and would have been killed if he refused. Left to choose between death or killing his countrymen, the archaeologist decided to flea to Turkey, leaving his mother in her Aleppo home. She refused to leave the only home she had ever known.
Wormald said he asked the man about the fear many Western countries have of young Arab men and he responded, saying that the people fleeing Syria are largely well-educated kind people who simply want a peaceful and happy life.
“Those people are like me,” the man told Wormald.
Since the conclusion of the camp last month, participants have stayed in contact through a Facebook group and new initiatives have already begun, with the goal of fostering peace in Turkey and beyond.
A number of participants, both Turkish and Syrian, got together and bought roses to hand out to strangers.
The glass-encased flowers were adorned one by one with a message in both Turkish and English: “Break your swords and pick up something of peace.”
— Kelvin Gawley, Abbotsford News