15 March: Today we held our anniversary vigil for the third year of the Syria conflict in Za’atari refugee camp. From this place where the significance of the conflict is lived every day, we took part in the international #WithSyria campaign, determined to show those in power that the war must not continue into a fourth year.
This time last year I remember standing, with my UK colleagues, at the Houses of Parliament to commemorate the second year of the conflict. I didn’t think I would be doing the same thing in Jordan a year later.
“No more”, we said, this time last year. And yet the bloodshed and atrocities have only multiplied. Over 10,000 children have now been killed by the conflict. Our recent report on the shattered state of Syria’s health system tells of doctors forced to amputate children’s limbs to stop extensive bleeding and newborns dying in their incubators because frequent power cuts are cutting off their supplies of oxygen. The number of refugees has more than doubled in the past year, from 1.2 million in March 2013 to 2.5 million today. Here in Jordan, 750 Syrians are crossing the border every day – not knowing when they will be able to go home.
Cold and insecurity
Life for a refugee is very unpredictable. Right now it’s bitterly cold in Jordan, with slashing rain over the past week. Today I wore thick winter socks, boots, thermal vest and three jumpers and still felt freezing. Goodness knows what it feels like to be a child living in a tent or container with no heating. Our Save the Children team in Za’atari camp has been working through the night to evacuate 33 families from flooded tents to our Child Friendly Spaces, giving them extra blankets, a welcome meal and warm boots, scarves, hats and gloves.
A surprisingly joyful occasion
In the midst of such sadness it’s hard sometimes to stay hopeful but although it seems strange to say, despite being such a tragic anniversary, today was a surprisingly joyful occasion. We organised a candlelit vigil, complete with red helium balloons for each child to echo the poster of a Syrian child that Banksy has created for the anniversary. A hundred children came and sang songs and we screened the film The Red Balloon, a French film about a little boy who finds a large balloon that follows him wherever he goes. I was nominated as Balloon Team-leader, blowing up the balloons with helium and giving them out to the children. One little girl, Rula*, held my hand as we were distributing the balloons and then asked me, with a cheeky smile, if she could have a second balloon. The children loved the film and clapped and cheered with joy at the end.
It’s bitterly cold, these children have been forced to leave their homes and the conflict has raged for three years too long – yet it’s inspiring and important that there are some small ways we can bring hope and smiles to these young faces.
*name changed to protect identity