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A businessman at 11

A child goes to work

From Aleppo, Syria

now in Gaziantep, Turkey

Left Syria August 2013

A little plastic pack of tissues. Ten of them. Three-ply. Perfect to keep in a purse or a pocket.

And to a skinny little Syrian refugee boy, perfect to help feed his family.

The boy, 11, comes each day to a pretty park in the center of this industrial city in southern Turkey where 100,000 Syrian refugees now live. He carries a black plastic bag filled with packs of tissues, and he walks all afternoon along the winding paths peddling them to everyone strolling by.

“I am working for my father and mother and my family,” he says with a matter-of-fact air that makes him seem older. “I have to help my family.”

The boy came to Turkey from Aleppo with his parents, three sisters and brother two months ago. They are crammed into a rented garage on the outskirts of town with more than 20 other refugees.

His father has found work six days a week shoveling coal into delivery trucks. But he makes barely enough to feed the family and pay the $150 monthly rent for their garage home. The boy says his family does not have enough food, and he is especially worried about his little sister. She is hungry a lot. So he has found a way to pitch in.

“I came to play in the park one day, and I saw some kids were selling these tissues,” he says. “I asked where they got them and they showed me, so I bought some.”

To start his little business, he borrowed about $2.50 from his father.

Now, every few days, he pays about $4 for 30 packs of tissues. He said it takes him two or three days to sell all of them. He accepts whatever price people give him. Sometimes it is just a few pennies — but sometimes some big-hearted person gives him a couple of dollars.

He figures he’s made about $25, maybe more, in the month since he started.

“I give the money to my mother to buy food,” he says. “Sometimes I give my sister some money.”

It is a sunny, chilly afternoon. Warm in the sunshine, cold in the shadows. He is wearing a blue striped sweater, jeans with embroidery, black Nike knockoffs with lime-green trim and Velcro straps. The first bit of mustache fuzz is growing on his upper lip. He has a flop of black hair, dark eyes and long eyelashes.


Asked what he misses about Syria, he answers immediately:

“My bicycle. I miss riding my bicycle and going around the neighborhood. It was so nice. But there were too many planes and too much bombing.”

He has not been to school since he left Syria. But that is fine by him. He would rather work.

“If I could find a job in a factory like my father, it would be better,” he says. “I’m scared to be doing this. I heard about kids being kidnapped. And sometimes the bigger kids hit me. Two days ago some big kids hit me and kicked me out of the park, so I didn’t come yesterday.”

One day he heard about a boy who had been kidnapped and killed.

“They said somebody took his liver,” he says, his eyes widening.

It sounds like a tall tale, but whether it’s true doesn’t matter — the boy believes it.

As the sun starts to set, he walks along the park that winds through the city like a green snake. He arrives at a busy boulevard, where he piles onto a bus for the 20-minute ride up to the hills on the city’s outskirts where the poorer people live. Up here, horses pull carts filled with potatoes and pomegranates. Red capsicum peppers dry on lines hung from satellite dishes.

When he arrives home, he joins a couple of dozen people hanging around the one-car garage where his family lives. It has concrete floors and one small room in the back piled high with cushions for sleeping. His mother has covered the cinder-block walls with sheets of fabric to make the place a little homier.

The boy’s mother says she does not want to give her name, or her son’s, or allow any photos that would identify her family. She says they are scared, and they might soon return to Aleppo because refugee life is too hard.

The boy is not so sure. He has started working now, and his tissue-selling business is contributing to his family. He likes that feeling, and he says he is growing fond of Turkey.

“There is no bombing. There are no sounds of gunfire. And they have nice parks.”

Every day, about 3,000 Syrians leave the country.

Since you started reading, roughly ## Syrians have left the country.