It’s hard to imagine life in Syria today. Harder still to imagine that fleeing to Iraq would be preferable to remaining in Syria.
Being a child and experiencing either is unimaginable.
Yet, Save the Children estimates that as many as 1 million Syrian children are now living as refugees. One million.
War and conflict are tragic enough. But, robbing children of their childhood and all the attendant delights of youth is simply criminal. I cannot imagine a more helpless feeling than being a parent to a child living in a war zone or fleeing from conditions which are nightmarish at best and a living horror at worst.
How do you explain it? How do you try to shield your child from the reality of war without deceiving them into a false sense of security? How do you instill hope whilst living in conditions which leave little room for belief in a brighter future?
Children under Fire, Save the Children’s report documenting the reality in which children now exist as a result of the civil war raging in Syria, is gut-wrenching.
By their estimates, more than 2 million children in Syria now need some sort of assistance. Figures from a study conducted by Bahcesehir University in Turkey which is referenced throughout the report suggest that three out of every four Syrian children have lost at least one loved one because of the conflict. Three of every four. Many children have lost multiple family members. Many of those children have watched as those loved ones died.
In their own words, children describe the horror of constant shelling and gunfire, as well as living in houses which are shelled whilst they sit inside. They describe running for their lives through neighbourhoods they used to run around in for play. They describe the loss of their schools, either to serve as shelter to the millions displaced within Syria or which have since been burned to the ground. They describe watching friends and family members being shot in front of them. One child’s mother recalled the first word spoken by her young child, born into a world lived only in a state of war: ‘explosion’. That was the first word a mother’s child ever uttered.
Malnutrition is now the norm. Children go un-vaccinated because the manufacturing of medicines has declined if not completely ceased (along with all manufacturing in the country) or because it is impossible to get through the multitude of checkpoints set up by various factions within the country. Thus, the likelihood of epidemics are all the more real. When children do get sick, it is either impossible to reach a clinic or hospital due to the continued threat of sniper-fire or bombings or the impossibility of simply getting through or there is nowhere to go because most if not all hospitals and clinics have been destroyed in a particular area.
Young girls now face the threat of sexual violence as well as the violence of war, and are thus kept indoors for weeks on end. Young boys, some as young as 8 years old, are being recruited as child soldiers and have been used as ‘human shields’.
Suffer the little children. ‘Suffer’ seems insufficient to describe the hell that is life in Syria today.
The easiest way to end the suffering is to end the conflict in Syria. As the US and others in the West beat the drums of war, peace looks unlikely any time in the near future. But, what of the children now? And, how to help even if we cannot physically be there?
In addition to prevailing upon our own leaders for peaceful solutions rather than violent retaliations, we can take steps to help in the seemingly smallest of ways.
As Syrians flee for refugee camps and as winter approaches, many of those fleeing have nothing but the clothes on their backs. One charity which is specifically designed for the crafty amongst us and focuses on helping children in need is asking for a very simple show of support and kindness—send knit or crochet squares.
LILY—or, Love in the Language of Yarn—is calling upon the community of knitters and hookers (not those hookers) to spend a bit of time busting their healthy yarn hordes to make squares, which are then pieced together and given to child refugees. As a knitter, I love this idea. As a humanitarian, it is so elegantly simple and yet necessary. As winter approaches and warm shelter, let alone a warm blanket, is often non-existent, I’ll gladly use some of my time and precious yarn stash to make as many squares as possible.
It may not be much, but it is something.
If we cannot give them security and safety, perhaps we can at least give them warmth.