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Syria: Childhood on the front line

Saleh used to search the dead for money to buy food. The war has robbed children like Saleh of their childhood.
Saleh used to search the dead for money to buy food. The war has robbed children like Saleh of their childhood.

Saleh is 10, but for him, childhood is a distant memory. He and his family live in the warzone that was once Syria's bustling capital. For children like Saleh, each day is a struggle for survival, bringing with it memories which no child should have to bear.

Al Tadamon district is on the front line of Syria's war. It is the site of numerous armed clashes, and the buildings are marked by years of bombardment by mortars and rockets. Many of the alleyways that crisscross the district are blocked by rubble, while others pass through the line of fire.

Just a few years ago, Al Tadamon hummed with the sound of daily life. Shoppers and commuters negotiated its busy streets, while children played or made their way to school. Today, the silence is broken only by shellfire. Venturing into the street means risking death.

Life in the kill zone

A panorama of Nisreen Street, on the front line in Damascus
Nisreen Street was once at the bustling heart of Damascus. Today, it is battered by years of bombardment
The empty streets and derelict buildings hide a secret. Step a few paces from the main road and you'll soon find signs of life. Nisreen Street is one of the most dangerous roads in Damascus. It lies on the fault line between opposing forces in the civil war. But around the corner, just outside the range of fire, laundry flaps on a clothesline set against a blackened wall.

10-year-old Saleh lives here with his mother and seven brothers, his grandfather Mouhammad, and his great-grandmother. His father was killed in the war.

He points to the door and the alleyway beyond, to a spot about 50 yards away. “My father died there,” he says. “They didn't give us his body to say a last goodbye. They gave us his bloodied clothes and boots. I still have them in my closet.”

Saleh didn't get a childhood; the war took it away, along with his father. Stored away in his head, set to remain with him forever, are memories no 10-year-old should carry. “I used to search dead bodies for money to buy food,” he says.

The horrors are not confined to memory. “At night, we don't go out,” says Saleh. “We lock the door very tightly so no one can hurt us. We smell the burning dead bodies all night. I used to wonder if my father's body was burned too.”

A lost childhood

Layla sitting with her family looking sad
Two years ago, Layla attended a friend's party on the very street where she lives today. She does not even know if her friend is alive or dead.
12-year-old Layla lives nearby. She can still remember the carefree days of her childhood. “We had a birthday party for my friend Sara two years ago over there,” she says, pointing to a burnt-out building nearby. “They had a sofa in the corner and a TV. We all lit candles, sang happy birthday, played games, ate cake and pizza and a lot of delicious food made by her mother.

But happy memories only make the impact of war starker. “There were 15 children of all ages at that party. I don't know where they are now. I don't even know if they're still alive. Sometimes I wonder whether Sara's tenth birthday was the last birthday she ever had, or [if] she's still alive out there somewhere to remember all of us. How many years will the war last before I see her again? Will we recognise each other?”

The pain caused by Syria's war is incomprehensible. Children have been forced to grow up before their time; to do things which a few years ago they could never have imagined. Many will never regain their childhood.

Shed light and preserve children's rights

Three years into Syria's war, and people are turning into statistics. We are proud to say that we have helped over 88,500 children affected by conflict, but behind every number lies a story. With the help of our supporters, we are doing all we can to ensure that no child is left behind.

Help us shed light on the plight of children like Saleh and Layla. Talk about them, tweet about them, and make sure children's rights are not forgotten in the chaos and brutality of Syria's war.

What are we doing to help?

  • Running child-friendly spaces where children can seek shelter from the horrors of war. Here, they benefit from counselling and support to help them come to terms with their experiences.
  • Providing meals to displaced families.
  • Helping children return to school in autumn 2013.
  • Providing clothes, bedding and blankets to families forced to live in cold buildings.
  • Offering shelter for the most vulnerable of all, including unaccompanied children.
  • Providing food and nourishment for new mothers and their babies.

With your support, we can continue to help the most vulnerable children in Syria.

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