This Syrian Refugee Just Won a Top UK Poetry Prize — And She’s Only 13
She’s only been speaking English for a year.
Amineh Abou Kerech has not been home since she was 8 years old. Now living in England as refugees, Kerech and her family were forced to flee Syria five years ago.
But Kerech, now 13, turned her pain into poetry — award-winning poetry, in fact. The teenager was awarded the Betjeman poetry prize, a national prize awarded to writers between the age of 10 and 13 in the UK, for her poem “Lament for Syria.”
After fleeing their home in Darayya — a suburb of Damascus that has become a “symbol of the rebellion against the regime of Bashar al-Assad” and has been a hotbed of violence since 2012 — Kerech and her family escaped to Egypt where they remained for four years before moving to Oxford, England, just last summer, the Guardian reported.
Since moving to the UK, the young poet has been working hard to master English, and her hard work is reflected in “Lament for Syria,” written half in English and half in Arabic.
“When I remember my Syria I feel so sad and I cry and start writing about her,” Kerech told the Guardian. Her father expressed surprise over Kerech’s win — not because he didn’t believe in her talents, but because he was focused on the future, rather than reflecting on the past. “I used to write simple things, but after the war, after the hard time that we had, we didn’t think that we needed to write anything,” he said. “We survived.”
In her award-winning poem, Kerech writes from her current perspective and hopes for the future in English.
“I’m trying to design a country/that will go with my poetry/and not get in the way when I’m thinking,/where soldiers don’t walk over my face.” She continues, “I’m trying to design a City/of Love, Peace, Concord and Virtue,/free of mess, war, wreckage and misery.”
In Arabic she paints a picture of her Syria, a land in peacetime.
“a land where people pick up a discarded piece of bread/So that it does not get trampled on … a place where a mother teaches her son not to step on an ant at the end of the day.”
“Syria./I will not write poetry for anyone else,” Kerech promises in her poem.
Though she misses her home, Kerech told the Guardian, “I feel so happy here [in England] because I have a future and things won’t be scary any more.”
“Everything will be good and we will always be in peace,” she said.
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