Friday, August 12, 2016

The myth of Syrian childhood

Childhood is a myth in Jordan, where a seven-year-old Syrian boy describes the terror of trying to escape across the border, running as bullets zipped between his legs. Reaching the border, he was arrested along with his grandmother and aunt, before being released to find refuge in Jordan. 

Syrian refugee families regularly find themselves being fired on by their own government forces as they flee to safety.

Observable fact indicates children of Syrian families will be the ones who remember this war the longest. Nightmares and fear echo the visual images ingrained in their psyche. They draw pictures of tanks, guns and dead bodies. Yet, it is these children who will define the long-term future of their nation.

The mother of another family, Fatima, (not her real name) said, “We drove from Homs to Damascus, staying one night, then to Dera’a where we hid another night. The next night we gave our two daughters, three and four years old, sleeping tablets, in the hope they would be quiet for the two-hour walk to the border.

My husband and I carried one daughter each and one bag of our possessions. All we had was left in Homs. Now it’s probably been destroyed.”

“I was terrified,” said Fatima. “I was 6 months pregnant at the time and finally I couldn’t walk any further.” “My husband took the other bag I carried, so I just had my daughter. We had to continue until we reached the border.”

Stories like this are commonplace and everyone you meet has lost someone, either to death, or prison, during this prolonged conflict. The heartbreaking fact is that whatever may be considered a normal childhood, has been erased to create a generation of patriotic war children. I hear the sweet voices of the children singing songs denouncing the Syrian leader, Bashar al Assad, or singing of the martyrs. If I could fully understand the words, it is with certainty they would be tainted with blood.

A fellow relief worker said, “I’ll always remember visiting one family. Their five-year-old son would scream every time I got closer than 10 feet. He would hide behind his grandmother or siblings and cry and scream. The grandmother told me he’d seen his dad get arrested in front of him.”  

In broken down homes and refugee camps, Syrians reside, parents striving to create ‘home’ for their family. However, parents potentially know hundreds of the war dead, and they themselves often cannot bear the pain this destruction has caused.

The hardships appear to indicate Syrian families would be prone to distrust. However, when visiting families in their homes, we receive an experience of care and love given from an extremely hospitable people. It is obvious that family and community are central and children are loved.

Still, because of this strong relationship, the children naturally connect with the same desires of their parents. The most common desire is for the war to end and for everyone to return home to Syria. The means to that end though are somewhat convoluted. A father of a four-year-old girl talking about revenge on the Shi’ite, turned and asked his daughter, “What will we do to them?” Repeating words she’s heard many times, she said, “We will kill them, kill them.”

Syrian children are growing up in an environment that does not guarantee safety, or survival. Products of the hatred of their ancestors, these children will be the future voice of Syria. The only hope is that one day, they can learn to forgive.