Syria: On a bitter anniversary, a little girl stands with Syria

“When my whole family was there and I was going to school like a normal, happy person I was happy like myself, like the real Lily. But as the film got dark I got really emotional: what that little girl had to go through was nothing like my life, her life was nerve-racking and scary.”

Lily-Rose, named for two flowers, has an anniversary coming up, but unlike the one we mark today, hers is a celebration. On Wednesday, she’ll be 11, although she looks younger: the girl she plays in our Second a Day film turns ten at the film’s end, although that anniversary isn’t quite a celebration, either.

That 93-second film has now been seen by over 25 million people, and rising: its depiction of a child’s life crumbling from normality into chaos as the kind of conflict we think only happens over ‘there’ explodes ‘here’ clearly hit home, in every sense. Lily doesn’t know much about Syria, apart from that it’s near Turkey (her father is Turkish), but she does understand that children are suffering there, and she wishes they weren’t.

“I think Syria’s children are finding it hard to cope,” she says, when asked how she thinks they feel. “But I don’t really know, because nothing bad is happening to me at the moment, touch wood, so it was hard, in the film, to act as if my life was terrible and I was really sad.”

Nothing bad is happening to her. That’s as it should be. She is a child. She wants to make more films, maybe do voiceover for a feature-length cartoon; she has the excitement of starring in a film that has gone viral and assorted other acting and modelling jobs to look forward to in her immediate future, as well as the more usual youthful pursuits of school, friends and family.
Syria’s children are deprived of most if not all of those ordinary childhood pleasures. They are hungry or lonely, lying sick without medicine or stranded in an alien land with inadequate shelter; they have insufficient schooling and no idea what will become of them.

Today marks three years of this conflict – three years of harm wreaked on children, with schools targeted, a food supply in ruins and a health system in tatters. At a global vigil on Thursday, we all lit candles, like Lily’s despairing mother at our film’s end; like hers, ours are pitifully inadequate to the occasion. All those candles, and still no glimmer of light for Syria. Let’s hope we aren’t still holding vigils for another year’s worth of victims this time next year. Today is a bitter anniversary.

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