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Growing up in a warzone

For children, war can threaten home, family and education; turning a stable childhood upside down
For children, war can threaten home, family and education; turning a stable childhood upside down

In every conflict, it is the most vulnerable members of society who suffer the most. For children, war threatens the security of a stable home, puts families at risk, and disrupts education, crushing dreams and opportunities. Here, we share two stories of what it is like to grow up in the shadow of war.

Read about 10-year-old Ammar, who spends his days collecting litter for a pittance, and find out how Tahir survived a terrifying ordeal when soldiers came to the SOS Village in Malakal.

Syria: “I wake up with insects crawling all over my body”

10-year-old Ammar lives on a construction site left incomplete when the war took hold of Syria three years ago. Like thousands of other Syrian children, he doesn't go to school. Instead, he works to help his family survive.

“I walk around these deserted buildings searching for plastic, metal and ruined bread,” says Ammar. “After collecting it, we separate it so it can be sold to traders. My family works from six in the morning until six in the evening for 600 Syrian pounds.” 600 Syrian pounds is less than £2.50.

“I spend half my day collecting rubbish and the other half carrying water. Each trip there and back to the taps takes 15 minutes walking and three to four hours standing in the hot weather in the crowds – to fill one small jerry-can. Yesterday, a man who had lost jerry-can stole mine, so I had to go home and bring back more. On my way back, my neighbour Rama, who is four, collapsed and fainted because of the sun.”

“There are only six taps for 100 buildings with 50 families in each. I only wash once a month because we never have enough water.”

“I was scared of dying”

Ammar and other children collect rubbish to sell in Syria
Ammar doesn't go to school – instead, he picks litter which his family sells for less than £2.50 per day

Ammar points to a plume of smoke rising in the distance. “That's where my home was. I had clean water there. My mother used to sing to me before I slept.”

Then, two years ago, Ammar and his family fled when fighting came to the neighbourhood: “Scary men attacked the barricade beside my house. My little brother and sister cried a lot, and I was scared of dying that day.

“Now I sleep on the floor. I hear bullets and grenades. I don't usually dream, but sometimes I wake up with insects crawling all over my body.”

Tragically, Ammar's story is not an isolated case. Today, thousands of Syrian children spend their days in hardship thanks to the ongoing war. Many have seen their homes destroyed and their family killed, plunged from comfortable lives into abject poverty. The early years are vital for success and stability later in life, but a generation of Syria's children are losing out on the chance to reach their potential.

Our supporters are helping children like Ammar and their families to survive the horror of Syria's war. Find out more.

South Sudan: “I remember the people I saw alive one minute and dead the next”

When conflict broke out in South Sudan last year after a political dispute, the fighting quickly spread north, eventually reaching the city of Malakal, where our Children's Village was located. As the fighting worsened and the rebels seized Malakal, we decided to evacuate SOS families and staff, taking them to the nearby UN base in small groups. Before everyone had left, however, the violence escalated dramatically, as 18-year-old Tahir recalls.

South Sudan Malakal
Tahir and other boys were forced to evacuate
SOS Village Malakal when armed soldiers threatened
violence

Early in the morning, Tahir and the remaining families woke to the sound of artillery fire. “Fighting had begun on the outskirts of Malakal, and was rapidly approaching. Gunshots were ringing around us and people were running in all directions. The whole place was in utter chaos. I quickly packed my clothes and ran for my life.”

Tahir headed for the river with his friend Okot, but when they arrived, they found there was no way to get across. With guns blazing around them, Tahir and Okot joined the crowds and dived into the water. “We stayed low. Someone raised his head and went down under a hail of bullets. The boats couldn't get to the bank because of the shooting. I was able to get to one of them but my friend couldn't swim. Some women and children also made it to the boat and we paddled with our hands to the other side.”

“People were killed for nothing”

Safe on the far bank, Tahir waited anxiously for his friend. Miraculously, Okot showed up half an hour later, and the boys made their way to shelter. Two days later, they met up with Isaac, the Village's youth leader. Today, Tahir and Okot are safe in the capital Juba with the other SOS families, ready to move into their new Children's Village.

They may be safe, but Tahir and countless youngsters like him will remain forever touched by what they have seen. “I remember the people I saw alive one minute and dead the next; the dogs consuming bodies along the road. People were killed for nothing; they were innocent... I worry about my friends. I have lost contact with them and I don't know if they are still alive. I will never forget.”

Our supporters are more vital than ever at this time of conflict; helping provide care for the most vulnerable children in South Sudan. Find out more.

We provide support for families and care for children in 125 countries worldwide, and many of the regions we work in are ravaged by war, natural disasters and other catastrophes. Find out how supporters like you help at times of crisis.

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