By Alexandra Matei, Syria Response Advocacy and Communications Director, and Elias Abu Ata, Syria Response Communications Manager, World Vision, Jordan
Conflict and war are known to scar children the most, but also everyone forced or not to flee. Their wellbeing, development and mental health are affected each day spent in fear or without the things they need. The conflict in Syria is no different. The decade-long war has become a normal reality to millions of Syrian children – 2,5 million of them now living in Northwest Syria. After fleeing their hometowns and residing in makeshift tents or unfinished buildings, these children have become isolated, unhappy, constantly worried and anxious of the uncertainty that looms on the horizon. Other aid agencies confirm this – more than 75% of these children show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while only a handful of them still dream of ever returning home.
There is no time to waste. Each and every single actor needs to act now to avoid a lost generation. Like The European Union Humanitarian Aid, prioritising Syrian children’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing must be immediately put into action, especially ensuring it is integrated across all sectors such as health and education.
World Vision has witnessed since the start of the crisis the immeasurable effects this conflict has had on children and continues to. Forced to leave home and their whole childhoods behind, losing family members, and simply scared in the face of the unknown, children have lost hope and hid away from anyone. Saleem’s* story is the story of each little boy who could only take on thing – his family’s photo - when his mother hurried him to pack and rush away from the intense fighting in fear of their lives.
There is not only hope that Saleem* and his friends received but also a place where they can continue and have access to non-formal education as schools are either far, damaged or simply closed. COVID-19 has made this much worse for Saleem* and his friend, Lara* but in the Child-Friendly Space, they got the tools they needed to develop their cognitive and intellectual skills. Lara* also slowly regained her old self back and confidence once regularly attending the center.
Lara* and Saleem*, like all the Syrian children we talked to, told us exactly what they want: an end to the war in Syria and their childhoods back. They want to become doctors, teachers, pilots and simply help others the way they have been helped at the Child-Friendly Space. All they want is to live just like any other child of their age.
Although Syria is undoubtedly the worst child protection crisis witnessed so far, there is hope through the dreams and eyes of the children who have known nothing but war, some of them for their whole childhood. But if they can believe in peace, why shouldn’t we?