Stories From Syria
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When I met Ghadir, she was 8 years old. Her sandy-blonde hair was a mess, and her green eyes were filled with sorrow. She was wearing donated clothes that were too light for the winter weather, and her plastic sandals were covered in mud and melting snow. She had come from a northern province in Syria after her home was destroyed. I held her hand as I walked through the Atmeh refugee camp, where more than 17,000 people shared 20 toilets and had one meal a day.
Before I left the camp, Ghadir asked me, “Auntie, are you going to come live with us?” I could not answer her. I cannot speak of her without choking up. She has become my moral compass. Incidentally, today Atmeh camp is “home” to more than 60,000 people. They now have 40 toilets.
Indeed, the children of Syria need to be the inspiration and motivation for the whole world. Imagine the tens of thousands of children who have not been to school in nearly three years! Not because they dropped out, but because their schools have become detention centers or were blown up during a bombing raid.
Imagine the millions of children who are now homeless! With more than 6.5 million internally displaced people, can you imagine the abject poverty they must live in? More than 80 percent of the internally displaced and refugees in neighboring countries are women and children. In Syria, just outside the capital Damascus, there are towns that have been under siege for more than an entire year. The remaining residents are starving to death, eating leaves, grass, and even cats and dogs, to survive.
And yet, many of these children still have hope. Little George*, about 10 years old, echoes his friend Ali’s* sentiments when he says, “I don’t want to live in a tent. I want to go back home and rebuild my country.” Other children, despite their lack of food, housing, proper clothing, or even basic services, draw pictures of better times in the future: sunny skies, birds flying, and peace symbols.
Yes, the children of Syria, whether at home, in refugee camps, or orphanages, are Muslim, Christian, and Druze. They are Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian, and Circassian. They are living symbols of the religious and cultural diversity that is Syria. And they are living symbols of what happens when dictators commit atrocities of genocidal proportion. Don’t let the massive numbers paralyze you into doing nothing: more than 150,000 dead. More than 2 million refugees in neighboring countries. More than 6.5 million internally displaced. More than 260,000 political prisoners, including thousands of children. And the fighting rages on. The bombs keep dropping and more people are dying or being displaced every day.
I’m glad some children keep their hopes of a brighter future. Let’s help them get there. Every gesture helps. Your thoughts, prayers, and Valentine messages can keep hope alive.
~ Rafif Jouejati of FREE-Syria
* names changed