Syria: this is what happens when the world turns away

*All the names in this blog have been changed to protect identities

Elijah* guards his family’s house in case the ‘bad men’ come back. his family have been displaced twice by the conflict raging inside Syria. Unable to afford the rent of where they were staying they have ventured back to their town in Northern Syria.â¨â¨"Elijah now always goes around with a gun he has made. Sometimes he pretends he is at a checkpoint and stands guard at the front of the house in case armed men come for us. I try and tell him it is ok and take the gun off him. But he only makes another and starts again. I worry about him, about all my children and their futures. He is only 6 years old."
Elijah guards his family’s house in case the ‘bad men’ come back

Heartbreaking – this is the word I would use to sum up the stories I have heard while working with Syrian children for Save the Children.

Stories like Mary’s, who’s village was attacked by armed men in the middle of the night.

“They came at 2am: killing and raping. We weren’t prepared, and we had nothing to protect ourselves with,” she told me as we sat in the cold and cramped tent her and her six children now call home.

“They showed no mercy that night… I remember seeing children on their mothers backs shot as they tried to run away.”

Guarding against the ‘bad men’

Or six year old Elijah’s, who is now so afraid that the “bad men’ will come back that he spends all day guarding his family’s home with a wooden ‘gun’.

“I try and tell him it is ok and take the gun off him,” his father shared with me as Elijah stood ‘guard’ outside and watched the front gate throughout our interview.

“But he only makes another and starts again. I worry about him so much. All he knows is war.”

Or Marwan’s, who at 15 years old has missed so many years of school that he is worried he no longer has a future.

“I am trying hard to catch up but I don’t know what will happen next and whether we will take our exams,” he told me.

“When I grow up I want to be a doctor so that I can help people but I worry that I have lost too much time, that I will be left behind.”

Marwan*, 15, was displaced when armed groups attacked his village. For months they controlled the area, using his school as a base to sleep in. Recently the area has switched control, troops have left the school and children have slowly started to come back. But the school was badly damaged and most of the facilities and equipment have been destroyed. Now Marwan is afraid that should the armed group come back he will be displaced again and may end up being left behind in his education.
Marwan in front of his classroom’s bullet-scarred blackboard.

And Ayman’s, the husband and father who’s full time ‘job’ now is just finding enough food so that the 21 people completely dependent on him don’t starve.

“My father is sick and needs medicine which we cant afford. It is a choice between medicine for him or food for us all,” he recounted as his family huddled under one blanket next to me to protect themselves from the bitter cold.

“I am the only one earning money and it isn’t enough. There are no jobs and little food.”

Endless, brutal war

These are just four heartbreaking stories that inadequately symbolise what millions of Syrian people are experiencing on a daily basis due to this bloody, brutal and seemingly endless war.

Four stories to represent the four years of failure by the international community to end their appalling suffering.

Four stories to reflect the shame we should feel that even when it looks like things can truly get no worse, somehow the situation continues to deteriorate as a result of ‘our’ collective indifference.

Last year I remember ‘mourning’ the situation inside Syria as we marked three years of the crisis. I remember that leaders from all around the world expressed their sorrow, outrage and declared things would change.

Empty words

Too often those declarations have proved to be nothing more than empty words. Too often those with the power to make a change have looked the other way while declaring that solving a problem like Syria is simply too difficult.

Sunday, 15 March marks fours years on since the crisis began and the truly worrying thing is that at the current rate we are not even close to its nadir.

Individually we may not be able to change the course of this war and how it ends, but we do have some power over the here and now.

Today we can put an end to the excuses.

We can demand a dramatic increase in leadership from key governments, we can demand that they push warring parties towards peace, that humanitarian access improves and that the delivery of aid to save lives and protect children’s futures through education is guaranteed.

If we don’t millions more heartbreaking stories will come into existence and one year from now we will find ourselves lamenting yet again another tragic anniversary marked by bloodshed and hopelessness.

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