The brutal Syrian conflict cost thousands of children their loved ones. Many children lost either a mother, a father or both of their parents, leaving them dealing with a loss that no one can really ever recover from. This loss left tens of thousands of children without a sense of safety, having to face the world’s uncertainties and ambiguities alone. Those who still can rely on one of the parents are fortunate enough to be sheltered by their loving arms and can be taken care of. This offers them a chance of living a different normality, yet a life where they can pursue their education and get back home at the end of a long day. But this is not the reality for 2.4 million children who are currently out of school and other children who are facing the world alone.
Amira’s life changed in a blink of an eye: losing her family because of the shelling
Eight-year-old Amira used to live with an extended family in northern Syria. The constant laughter of her mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, and brother filled the house with happiness and joy. Amira lived in a small house in a tiny room, but it was a castle in her eyes. Her parents’ warmth and love made it feel like heaven. Every day she would wake up to the delicious smell of the oriental breakfast her mother made. Amira adored the Za’atar and olive oil sandwich her mother made. She could still taste it, even after all these years. After that, Amira would hurry up to get dressed and head to school. Along the way, Amira would pick up flowers to give to her teacher, whom she respected so much. It was one of her daily joys to take care of the flowers and then offer them as a gift.
But all of this changed one frightful day when Amira’s life was turned upside down. The beautiful flowers turned into burning ashes and the smell of the tasty breakfast was overpowered by smoke and gasoline. Bombardments filled the once blue sky and replaced the rain with countless missiles destroying tens of houses. Their village was bombarded and their house collapsed. Little Amira managed to survive, but her parents and brother perished in the attack. With the bit of power left in her, Amira was able to gather some clothes with her grandmother and immediately left the house. The remaining family members [the grandmother, grandfather and Amira] took a car and headed to northern Syria, hoping for a safe place to stay. Amira was overwhelmed by the extent of destruction that befell the city along the way. At the same time, she had just lost her family; all she could feel was sadness and despair. Amira kept thinking, “I lost everything because of displacement. I lost my family, my friends, and my flowers. I used to care for the flowers and water them every day” .
The long dreadful displacement journey led the family to a city in northern Syria. Finally, Amira could rest knowing she was safe, but the memory of her parents and her little brother never left her mind. “Sometimes I miss my parents and my brother so much it makes me feel angry," Amira shares with sadness. The aftermath of losing her parents and her brother severely affected Amira. She became isolated and faced difficulty making friends after enrolling in a new school. Amira used to be an A-student, but after the displacement, her grandparents noticed she was not performing well at school and she became socially withdrawn. After staying in a displacement camp in northern Syria, her grandmother learned about a protection centre run by World Vision’s partner. Positive word of mouth about the centre's psychological service has spread in the area, encouraging her grandmother to know more.
A ray of hope for Amira: overcoming emotional distress
After learning about the protection programme and how it provides psychological support to children who have been through distressing circumstances, Amira enrolled in the centre. The trained staff were informed of Amira’s situation. This helped create a safe environment where she could express herself freely. Amira attended several sessions where the facilitator encouraged her to talk about why she felt sad. She shares, “My family and I used to live happily and safely in our village. Then a plane bombarded us, and they passed away. Now I live with my grandfather and grandmother, but they are unable to work,” This adds a layer of distress to Amira. She is empathetic towards her grandfather’s inability to work as he is 57 years old. Her grandfather does his best in securing basic needs for Amira and his wife. “My grandfather is old. He sometimes has to do labour like construction to provide for us,” explains Amira. The facilitator keeps assuring Amira that she is not alone and it is safe to share her emotions.
During one of the drawing classes where children were asked to draw what makes them feel happy, Amira drew her family and said, “I will never be happy without them”. The facilitator comforted her and taught her healthy ways to manage and understand any negative emotions. Slowly, after four sessions, Amira started to come out of her shell and become more expressive. She learned how to use drawing and painting to express her feelings instead of holding them back. It helped her gain techniques through which she could adapt to her new life. After a while, Amira realised that personal relationships are meaningful and can bring joy to someone’s life. Amira found comfort and safety she has been searching for so long among her friends, being alone and isolated became a foreign feeling to her. Her communication skills have improved and she has made new friends at school and at the centre. “I now feel that I have friends who love me. They are my support system, and I am grateful I reached this point”. Even Amira’s grandmother is pleased with the improvement Amira made. “I am thankful that psychological support services are available for children. They have lived through so much sadness,” she adds.
About the project
Amira is one of many children who spent their last days with their parents listening to the frightful and ringing sound of bombs and artillery. Instead of getting ready for school or another eventful birthday, they were getting ready to welcome a new world filled with obscurity. Some of those children, like Amira, are fortunate enough to be supported by protection programmes. However, this is not the reality for all children.
Throughout the project’s lifespan [from April 2021 until March 2022], more than 3,200 children received protection services. The Global Affairs Canada- funded project - Integrated Emergency Health, Nutrition, Protection and WASH Response in Syria, focused on raising the caregivers’ awareness regarding protection issues. Awareness sessions aimed to educate parents and other caregivers about the importance of psychological health- especially for children. As an extra measure towards ensuring the best environment for children, especially at home, 360 structured parenting sessions for 360 parents were held and implemented by World Vision’s partner.