TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — When Lina Safar moved from her native Syria to Tampa with her U.S.-born husband in 2012, she assumed she would return occasionally, see her family, walk in her neighborhood and shop at her favorite markets.
A year later, her country was engulfed by civil war and Safar watched in horror from afar. Safar's father, a physician, was killed while helping the wounded. Her mother and brother fled and joined Safar at her Tampa townhome.
There's no way of telling when Safar will return for a visit, if ever. The 31-year-old children's book illustrator now remembers her country through her own paintings — and by helping Syria's displaced children. Safar recently illustrated a series of workbooks for Syrian refugee children as part of a program sponsored by Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid organization.
Mercy Corps spokeswoman Andie Long said Safar's illustrations will be in books in English and in Arabic that train adults how to properly care for displaced children. There are also accompanying workbooks for the children.
According to UNICEF, some 5.5 million Syrian children have been affected by the war, with more than 1 million children living as refugees in neighboring Mideast countries.
"These are circumstances where the number of people affected is so enormous," Long said.
Safar studied art in Damascus and met her husband there. She was working with international publishers on illustrating children's books while in Syria, and continued when she married and came to the U.S. She said work on the project for Syrian children affected her deeply.
"I was constantly thinking about Syria. But not only Syria today, not the present, the sad situation, but going through a lot of memories, going through and trying to recreate the details of the everyday life I remember," she said.
The book titled "My Story" provides a way for the displaced children to write and illustrate their own histories, feelings and memories while giving them a measure of control over their lives. Safar's ethereal, colorful drawings frame open-ended questions such as, "My favorite animal is..." ''Our family traditions..." or "My goals are..."
"It was very helpful for me, to feel that I was able to contribute in one way or another," she said. "This was just a small piece of me that I could send back to those children and the people of Syria."
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