Wednesday 7 December 2016

Clown who brought cheer to Aleppo's traumatised children killed

Published 30/11/2016 | 21:42

Children collect firewood at a site hit by airstrikes in the rebel held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo Photo: Reuters
Children collect firewood at a site hit by airstrikes in the rebel held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo Photo: Reuters

A social worker who often dressed up as a clown to cheer up Aleppo's traumatised children has been killed in a missile strike in the besieged Syrian city.

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Anas al-Basha (24) was a centre director at Space for Hope, one of many unheralded local initiatives operating against the odds to provide support services to Syria's war-torn opposition areas.

He was killed in a presumed Russian or Syrian government missile strike on the Mashhad area in the embattled eastern side of the city.

In a now largely bombed-out enclave, Space for Hope supports 12 schools and four psycho-social support centres in eastern Aleppo, providing counselling and financial support for 365 children who have lost one or both parents in the fighting.

Many of the staff of 34 learned social work on the job as the country's five-year civil war unfolded.

Mr al-Basha's supervisor, Samar Hijazi, said she will remember him as a friend who loved to work with children.

Children are evacuated after their school was hit by shelling by rebels in government-held western Aleppo. Photo: SANA/Handout via Reuters
Children are evacuated after their school was hit by shelling by rebels in government-held western Aleppo. Photo: SANA/Handout via Reuters

She said: "He would act out skits for the children to break the walls between them."

His parents left the city before the government sealed its siege of the rebel-held eastern districts last summer - but he chose to stay on, and had his salary sent to their new residence in the countryside.

The men and woman who shouldered the burden of looking after Aleppo's children have been left exhausted by the ongoing conflict.

Ms Hijazi said: "All of us in this field (of childcare) are exhausted, and we have to find strength to provide psychological support and continue with our work."

Space for Hope has suspended its operations in Aleppo for the time being. A renewed government assault on the city's east has brought shelling and bombardment at an unprecedented rate, displacing tens of thousands of civilians in the span of four days and killing dozens of them every day.

Mr al-Basha is survived by his wife, who remains trapped in Aleppo. They married two months ago.

An injured boy sits near a man as they warm themselves by a fire in a rebel held area of Aleppo, Syria November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail
An injured boy sits near a man as they warm themselves by a fire in a rebel held area of Aleppo, Syria November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

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