Wednesday 13 December 2017

Syria: a land where children still suffer

Photo editor David Conachy visited a Lebanese refugee camp where children pay a heavy price for Syria’s civil war

IS ALL HOPE GONE: Haji Khater, who was shot five times in the civil wars that are ravaging Syria, with his son Hussein
IS ALL HOPE GONE: Haji Khater, who was shot five times in the civil wars that are ravaging Syria, with his son Hussein
The makeshift refugee camp in Marej, in the Beqaa Valley, Lebanon, is now home to thousands of displaced refugees, fleeing the violence in Syria

There is nothing in this world I wouldn't do for my daughter. Nothing. The three-year-old centre of my universe loves to swim, watch Peppa Pig and chat at five in the morning. I went away last week without her and on my travels came across barefoot children who work for a living and can't go out after 8pm.

I was in the Beqaa Valley, a stone's throw from Syria, in a Lebanese refugee camp. About 800,000 people live there, in tents mostly, with rubber tyres on top so their makeshift homes don't blow away in the wind. I met a father like myself, Haji Khater was his name. He pulled off his top and showed me his bullet-ridden torso.

One day, at home in Syria, he was out getting bread and got caught in crossfire. He shows me a scar just above his heart as his kids sit around him in his hut. The shooting finished him — the straw that broke the camel's back, they fled from Syria soon after.

Haji's life had been an abundant one. He told me how he used to “play with money”. They had a very good life at home and his wife Halima wore gold bracelets all the way up to her elbows. The family sold all the gold in order to survive but it still wasn't enough.

Abdo was another father I spoke to. His house was bombed and but for the grace of God his entire family escaped unharmed. People at home think of the Middle East and see things like floor-length garbs, flat breads and desert lands. But Abdo was just like me, a working father who lived in a three-bed house, had two days off a week and whose greatest wish was that his four kids got on in life.

His eldest son Oujelan, 13, now works for a living and his mother told me how he roars crying every morning as he leaves their brick dwelling Abdo built to go to his job. Oujelan was a star pupil who adored school and valued education. He was going to be a teacher. Leila, his mother, no longer holds out any hope of a better future for her children. She has given up.

So far, 120,000 are dead since the civil war broke out in March 2011 and more than two million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, North Africa. And of those two million, half of those are kids who will never see inside a real classroom again. That was the greatest tragedy I saw; futures wiped out before they'd even begun.

I went in with World Vision. They've been in there since May 2011. They're helping with schooling and getting kids like Oujelan back into the classroom.

As winter approaches and as temperatures drop to below zero, they're providing them with blankets too. So far, they've helped 200,000 people, but as the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth deepens, they're tripling their efforts.

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