Refugee children in Sherbrooke receive custom-made doll who, like them, survived war
Micheline Youssef hopes her doll Shaam will allow children to open up about past trauma
"I had this dream and today it came true. I'm so happy," said Micheline Youssef as she dropped off boxes to daycares and elementary schools in Sherbrooke, Que., the week before Christmas.
Inside each box was a doll named Shaam, the Arabic word for Damascus, the capital of Syria.
With brown eyes and brown hair pinned back with a jasmine, the unofficial flower of her home country, Shaam represents a Syrian girl who escaped war.
Youssef said the goal of giving this doll such a charged story was to give refugee children a reason to open up about their own past, without having to find the right words in a foreign language.
Tool in the classroom
After a succesful crowdfunding campaign which raised more than $10,000 to produce the dolls, Youssef is donating the them to schools and daycares where kids will share them.
"Everybody who lived the war, even parents, are so happy and tell me 'You give us some comfort, that someone thinks of us and lived the same thing as us,'" said Youssef.
Inside the classroom of Sherbrooke's École Larocque elementary school is where Youssef presented Shaam for the first time.
Seham Kadimati, a young girl from Syria, approved of the doll's bright red dress, adorned with a heart. She didn't want to explain how similar her life story was to Shaam's.
"If I do ma'am, I will cry," she said.
Their teacher, Isabeau Hotte Lacroix, said it sometimes takes her students a long time to adapt to life in Quebec when they first arrive.
She said she hopes to experiment with Shaam as a communication tool to help them feel better.
"Just to speak to someone without having to answer questions. Just to express themselves," Hotte Lacroix said, who hopes to send Shaam home for short periods with the children who grow more attached to the doll.
A salvation for Youssef
Youssef said focusing on this project helped her deal with her own trauma.
While living in Damascus during the war, she said she never knew what would happen when she left for work in the morning.
It took her family two years to get out of the country when they finally were sponsored by a Syrian orthodox church.
"Shaam helped me find a reason to live and to continue in this life, to give hope to kids and to myself."
The 40-year-old creator is now contacting other organizations who work with refugee children and she hopes to distribute the rest of the dolls in the coming weeks.