When San Francisco resident Samantha Grier sees photos of Syrian children in refugee camps half a world away, the images take her back to her childhood in New Jersey, a period she remembers for the neglect and loneliness she endured.
Her mother was hustling to open a children’s clothing store and her father was off working long hours as a shoe salesman. Grier was often left on her own with a black-and-white teddy bear named Gookie that provided her a source of comfort and companionship in times of solitude.
Now, nearly 75 years later, Grier is sending 5,000 teddy bears to Syrian refugee children in Jordan through an organization she started in 1986, Caring for Children. The stuffed animals are set to be shipped sometime this month, and she hopes they will give the young recipients a sense of home and comfort as they cope with displacement, conflict and trauma.
“I was left alone most of the day before there was child care, day care or even television, with no companionship but my trusty teddy bear. The first thing it does for the children is calm them down,” said Grier, who is in her 80s. “It feels like their mother. It feels comforting.”
A civil war in Syria started when pro-democracy protests against President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011 — ultimately leading to countless lives lost and prompting many families to flee the country.
There are more than 5 million Syrian refugees in the Middle East, at least a million displaced in Jordan, said Jenifer Fenton, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Nearly half of registered Syrian refugees in the region are children, Fenton said, adding that nearly 3 million Syrian children under the age of 5 will have grown up knowing nothing other than war.
Grier, who studied child development and trauma at the National Institute of Mental Health and previously worked as a social worker, didn’t grow up in a war zone. But she recalls living in constant fear as rumors would swirl in her household of alleged sightings of Nazi submarines along the New Jersey shoreline during the height of World War II.
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