11 years of conflict. 11 years of lost childhood. - CARE

11 years of conflict. 11 years of lost childhood.

Habiba and her father Khaled at Azraq Camp, Jordan. Photo: CARE/Suhaib Al Jizawi

Habiba and her father Khaled at Azraq Camp, Jordan. Photo: CARE/Suhaib Al Jizawi

Five Syrian girls in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. They were all born the year the conflict started.

Millions of children were born in Syria since that country’s civil conflict began more than a decade ago.  Many are regularly exposed to violence and explosive weapon attacks. Thousands have lost family members and been forced to flee their homes to camps in faraway places and across neighboring countries. Most continue to experience daily, numerous violations of their basic rights to health, education and protection. These are some of their stories.

Amra asks: "What is our crime that we must remain uneducated?” Photo: CARE/Tarek Satea

Amra, 11, Northwest Syria

When the conflict in Syria began, Amra* lived in a big house with lots of toys. Her siblings tell her that they had their own room and so did her parents. The children even had a playroom. They were happy until an airstrike destroyed their home and injured Amra’s father. Shaken, Amra’s father packed his family into a car and moved them to another village.

Her mother enrolled her in school and Amra adjusted to the new neighborhood. She played and made new friends, and then another airstrike hit, killing Amra’s friends. Again, the family moved. Amra restarted school and her grandmother gave her a toy for doing well. But it wasn’t long before an airstrike hit, killing another of Amra’s friends.

The family moved again, and again and again, finally ending up in a dark, moldy basement room that reeked of sewage. Unable to watch his family suffer, Amra’s father moved his wife and children to a camp for displaced persons.

*All names have been changed.

Amra with her father in the displaced-persons camp. Photo: CARE/Tarek Satea

Although she has made lots of new friends in the camp, Amra misses her old ones. She is constantly afraid that the tent will fly off in the wind or catch fire and burn her siblings. Fetching water from far away water tanks is a difficult chore for the little girl. Her hands hurt. But worst of all, school is held in a tent. Amra misses her old school. She tries to teach her friends the alphabet and everything she remembers. But she asks, “We, a whole generation, what is our crime that we must remain uneducated?”

Hana says, "I wish every child could complete their education." Photo: Shafak/CARE

Hana, 11, Northwest Syria

Hana was born at the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011. When she was two, she and her family were forced to flee. Although she was quite young, she remembers her house had a beautiful swing and a garden with flowers and orange trees. Hana has fond memories of playing in the garden and going to the market with her mother. “Our village was very beautiful,” she says. “People used to visit from all over because of our beautiful parks.”

In the intervening years, the family moved multiple times. For the last six months, they’ve been living in a camp in a mountainous region in Northwest Syria. “I wish the war would stop so everyone could return home. I wish every child could go back to school and complete their education,” she says.

Hana attends school in the camp. Her biggest fear is that the war or her living conditions will delay or end her education. She loves to study English and dreams of becoming an English language teacher someday.  “I want to tell girls outside Syria that I love them so much,” she says. “I would like to tell them that although we are living in a camp, we love school because we want to become architects, doctors and teachers. I am proud of myself because with all the challenges we are facing, the war, displacement, no schools, I am still determined to become a teacher.”

"I couldn't get treatment because of the war," Bushra says. Photo: CARE/Delil Souleiman

Bushra, 11, Northeast Syria

When she was just a toddler, Bushra’s mother discovered something worrying about her little girl. Bushra was born with a condition that prevented the use of her legs. With conflict having broken out in Syria the same year Bushra was born, treatment was put on hold.

“My children had a good and stable life before the war. Now there’s no dignity, no security.”

Three years ago, Bushra, her mother and four siblings fled with just the clothes on their backs to an informal settlement for displaced persons after shelling destroyed their home. Her parents having separated, Bushra’s mother is now the family’s sole breadwinner. With three children under the age of six, and Bushra needing help to get around, her mother has found it difficult to find work and feed the family. Bushra’s treatment seems like an impossible dream. “Bushra was so depressed and unhappy,” says her mother. “Now she goes to the play center in the camp. She started to play. I am so happy to see her smile. My children had a good and stable life before the war. Now there’s no dignity, no security.”

A few months ago, Bushra broke both legs while attempting to transfer to another chair on her own. CARE has helped Bushra get a wheelchair so she can get around independently. She has also started school. Bushra has just three desires in life: to walk, become a teacher, and for the conflict to end.

"I don't know if I would ever want to go back to Syria," Habiba says. Photo: CARE/Suhaib Al Jizawi

Habiba, 11, Azraq camp, Jordan

Habiba is the eldest of five siblings, meaning all she and her brothers and sisters have ever known is conflict. Habiba was born amidst shelling and gunfire. “There were no hospitals nearby so we had to drive for 25 km while bombs exploded around us,” she recalls. “It was a perilous journey. We didn’t know when we might be hit by a missile.”

When Habiba was almost two and a half years old, her family sought refuge in Jordan. The decision to leave their beloved homeland was difficult, but it was apparent they could no longer live in Syria. The family walked for hours in the wintery cold, eventually getting into a car that took them to the Jordanian border.

At Azraq camp, Habiba goes to school and has lots of friends. Her favorite subject is mathematics. She hopes to be a teacher one day. Habiba loves spending time with her grandfather and learning to cook kibbeh with her mother. She also visits the CARE community center. Her favorite activity is drawing. “I like to draw and use my imagination. It takes me to another world,” she says.

Police officers patrol the camp and for now, surrounded by her loved ones and favorite activities, the camp has all that Habiba needs. “I feel safe here and I am happy. I only wish my father could get a job,” she says. “I don’t know if I would ever want to go back to Syria. My parents and grandfather talk about it every day. Syria is a green country, and we had a house there. My father and grandfather used to work, and we lived well. But my life is here.”

"I feel different from everyone else," Atiya says. Photo: CARE/Patricia Khoder

Atiya, 11, Lebanon

Although she’s lived in Lebanon from age three, Atiya has a strong sense of identity. “Even though we’ve been here for a long time, even though we have Lebanese friends and I go to school, we’re different,” she says. “Our accent is different. I feel different from everyone else. I’m not in my country and when you’re somewhere else, you never feel really safe.”

Atiya barely remembers Syria, She knows her native country only through stories told by her parents. “I remember there were bombs, I remember the noises, the hisses and explosions. My parents say Syria was beautiful, that it was a good place to live. They tell me about the food, the shops, the parks and the walks we took. But I don’t really know,” she says.

“Sometimes people ask me why I am still here, why I don’t go home. I want to shout to them: ‘Why don’t you understand? My country was destroyed — where do you want me to go? I have nowhere to go.'”

She, her parents and four siblings live in Nabaa, a poor neighborhood in the suburbs of Beirut. A few years ago, Atiya made a drawing of a house surrounded by a garden with a little girl in it. “I imagined Syria and our house. My parents say our home was burnt down and the neighborhood completely destroyed,” she says. Her extended family is similarly torn apart, spread across Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Atiya dreams of peace being restored in Syria and of her family reuniting. “Sometimes people ask me why I am still here, why I don’t go home. I want to shout to them: ‘Why don’t you understand? My country was destroyed — where do you want me to go? I have nowhere to go,'” she says.

The crisis in Lebanon has made it difficult for Atiya’s parents to meet the family’s basic needs.  CARE assisted by providing her with a back-to-school kit at the beginning of the school year.

 

Zenab Bagha, Patricia Khoder, Amal Maayeh, and Johanna Wynn Mitscherlich contributed to this story.