For those who manage to flee the violence, safety is not guaranteed beyond Syria’s borders.
In many refugee host countries, children are being forced to trade their childhoods for jobs to pay basic household living expenses. Young girls are married early because their families can’t provide for them and in some cases, for their own protection.
World Vision has worked with these children since the war began. Leading up to the sixth anniversary of the conflict, we asked them to share their fears and dreams with us. We also spoke to children in relatively safe countries to better understand how exposure to violence can influence a child’s view of the world and their ability to remain hopeful.
We found many childhood commonalities and a heart-warming amount of empathy. But as one might expect, the most startling contrast was that Syria’s children live in almost constant fear of violence and have been thrust into adulthood much too quickly.
World Vision’s new campaign ‘It takes a world to end violence against children’ requires all of us to become relentless advocates for Syria’s children. To hold decision-makers and their six-years of inaction to account.
All children have fears and dreams. Whether they become a reality is up to us.
After his father and uncle were shot and killed, the gun was pointed at Mohammed. He ran and hid in a nearby valley until it was safe to come out. After that, Mohammed and his remaining family fled Syria’s Golan Heights to Jordan. As they left their home behind, he realised the importance of family and that his biggest fear was something happening to his younger sisters.
He’s not alone, 15 per cent of Syrian children surveyed by World Vision agreed their biggest fear was losing a family member.
“It was a beautiful life. I had all my family. Everything we needed. I suppose you don’t realise what you have until you don’t have it anymore.”
Now living in Azraq Refugee Camp, Mohammed dreams of becoming a journalist.
“I was interested in journalism from a young age, my uncle would buy me newspapers to read and study. Even though he was killed, I want to carry on with this dream, it is a way of honouring him.”
That determination has seen Mohammed and a group of friends start a magazine for youth inside the camp.
Mohammed hopes the first issue will be ready to distribute soon.
Eight-year-old Jasmine and her elder sister Dalal are from Hama. They left Syria three years ago and are now living in a refugee host community in Jordan.
Their father, Hnadi can see how the conflict has affected them and tries to make life better for them each day. "I just want to give them everything they want. They should be children and enjoy their childhood,” he says. “I’ve tried to make the house friendly and warm. We put toys up on the wall and buy them clothes like onesies. We’ve felt disconnected since we left Syria.”
“We have an empty bird cage, and a big Tweety Bird. My kids asked me why we don't put the bird inside the cage. I told them that birds don’t belong in cages, they should be free to fly.”
While the sisters miss Syria, they are grateful to be in Jordan.
“I feel safe here. I love Syria, but at the moment, I wouldn’t feel safe there,” explains Dalal. “When I was in Syria I feared the airstrikes and the gun-shots. When I see a policeman here I get scared too.”
The sisters, like half of the Syrian children surveyed, dream of peace and returning to Syria.
Jasmine also agreed with 12 per cent of respondents who also said they wanted to be reunited with family. “I miss my grandma and my aunties, I just want to see them again and hug them.”
Meanwhile, Dalal dreams of doing well in school and making her mother proud. When she grows up, she wants to become a nurse; joining 33 per cent of Syrian children who told World Vision they dream of a particular profession. The most common answers were doctors and teachers.
Hnadi says he is extremely proud of his children and how they’re dealing with their new life in Jordan. “These are my buddies, I love them,” he says as he pulls them close for a photo.
- Sisters Ghina, 16, and Nour, 14 from Syria
World Vision’s Syria Response is offering children psychosocial support and providing them with remedial education, life-skills and safe places to play.
Our hope is these interventions will help them through their experiences, educate them about their rights and how to protect themselves and to resolve social conflicts peacefully.
We are engaging teachers to promote a protective environment for children at school, training parents and caregivers in Positive Discipline and establishing Community Based Child Protection Committees to recognise and refer all cases of violence including physical, emotional and sexual abuse, child labour and early marriage. Our staff are also trained to identify child protection violations.
Internationally we are advocating for donors to commit to longer term funding for the Syrian crisis, for wealthy countries to take their fair share of refugees and decision-makers to put an end to the violence. In particular, the United Nations Security Council should use all of the diplomatic tools at its disposal to stop the atrocities and protect children and their families.