QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) - 9-year-old Haider al-Hassan, along with many of his friends from various communities in the city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria, goes to the Barmaya Summer Club to spend his vacation learning languages and engaging in recreational activities alongside various dabke, or folk dances, performed by group of people who combine circle dances and line dancing, and is widely performed at weddings and other festive occasions.
Since 2012, Barmaya, a Syriac culture and art group, has opened a summer club in Qamishli for children aged six to fourteen.
According to those managing it, the club teaches children the Syriac and English languages and history, in addition to its entertainment and external activities, such as visiting monasteries, shrines, and landmarks in the region.
Tony Chamoun, the club's manager, told North Press that the group was founded in 2012 in cooperation with the German-based charity Save Our Souls, which supports small projects that concerned with Syriac art and language in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Chamoun said that they were able to maintain the club during the nine years of the war, and kept all the materials they were providing. They also added a health section this year, with the aim of teaching children the basics of preventative measures against coronavirus and how to apply them."
“The school days are reduced to three days, and the fourth one is for field trips, in which we take the children to visit public places,” Chamoun added.
He said that “the club is equipped to receive a maximum of 70 children. So we prepared two rooms in the center for the summer club, but with the increase in the number of students, which reached one hundred, we had to allocate a third room for new students."
The club is divided into three classes according to the children’s ages: a class for six- to eight-year-olds, a class for nine- to eleven-year-olds, and a class for twelve- to fourteen-year-olds.
Barmaya is not just open to Syriac youth and children. The club manager stated that “We registered more than 95 children from all communities. There are Syriacs, Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, and this issue is not the result of the crisis."
“Barmaya, since its foundation, has worked to revive the heritage of all communities of the Jazira region through its artwork; we tried the same in the summer club also by receiving children from all communities,” he added.
Chamoun noted that “their focus on the issue of health and first aid led them this year to cooperate with the Syrian Red Crescent to allocate health lessons.
"We follow the health instructions completely, from the sterilization of the center on a daily basis to taking students’ temperature in the morning," he added.
Saida Hanna, one of the club’s students, said that she has been going to the club for five years, where she learned the Syriac language and got acquainted with Syriac folklore.
Barmaya, which means “children of water” in Syriac, dates back to the year 2004, when it was originally a folk dance group. It was founded on the initiative of young men and women from the city of Qamishli, and registered with the Syrian Ministry of Culture in February 2009.
The group has participated in many local and international festivals, presenting dancing and art inspired by the customs and traditions of the Syriac people, with the aim of maintaining the folklore of this ancient community. (Report by Reem Chamoun, editing by Lucas Chapman)