Ahmad Imam* is a former tour guide turned aid worker from Syria.
A 5-week-old baby is brought to one of the few functioning clinics in Eastern Ghouta after an airstrike kills his entire family. The doctor despairs. Besides the obvious tragedy that this child is now an orphan, there is an immediate concern – there’s no milk formula left in all of Eastern Ghouta, under siege for the past five years. The baby will die unless he can get the right kind of food.
Meanwhile, a young mother is rushed to the same clinic. Bleeding profusely following an airstrike, she ends up having her hand amputated, with little in the way of pain relief. She too is the sole survivor in her family. The doctor who’s tending to the baby notices the young mother is still producing breast milk, having recently given birth herself. In the chaos of war with bombs falling from the sky, he brings the two together, orphan and bereaved mother, so both can survive.
This is life in Eastern Ghouta right now.
I was born and raised in Damascus, and before the war I used to work as a tour guide. But my old life came to an end when the bombs and bullets started flying. It soon became obvious that the peaceful movement was over, and the next phase would be armed conflict. I had to decide what I would do, and I chose to be an aid worker.
As we enter the eighth year of war in Syria hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives, millions have lost the means to survive, and over half of the population have been forced from their homes. Swathes of Syria now resemble hell on earth.
Syria’s children are paying the heaviest price. They’ve been attacked in their homes, schools, playgrounds and hospitals. Almost three million children have been forced to flee Syria in search of a life free from terror. They’ve witnessed horrors no child should see – and unless they get the support they need their mental and emotional scars may never heal. I have met children standing on the rubble of what used to be their schools, in collective shelters on the frontline and in the middle of the sea hoping to be rescued from the waves.
And over the past seven years, I’ve seen how their hopes and dreams have changed – from dreaming of a bright future, to having just one hot meal a day, to waking up to their lost mother’s voice, and now, having wings to fly far away from this world.
Today in Eastern Ghouta children are dying by the hour. Homes, hospitals and aid workers are the main targets of a new and brutal campaign that’s left some 350,000 civilians trapped in cold and dark basements with no food, water or medicine. One mother who managed to send a message to the world said: “When the bombardment intensifies, I worry my body is not enough to cover my children’s bodies. I try to put them to sleep but they are terrified. They ask me simple questions like why they are bombing us? Does God love us? Is he on their side or ours?”
War, violence, and fear can’t be the only reality. We need to remind children that one day they will look at the sky and enjoy its beauty rather than fear the next airstrike. One day they will go to the park to play, not to bury a loved one.
Throughout my time with Save the Children, I have drawn hope and strength from the children I meet – children like ten-year-old Omar from Aleppo. The first time we spoke was when he was injured in an airstrike that destroyed his home and killed his father along with two of his siblings. I was speaking to one of the doctors in the hospital when I heard him crying in the background for his dying father. He kept shouting, “don’t save me, let me die to be with my father!”
A few weeks later Omar came back to the same hospital, but this time he came to donate blood after hearing that supplies were low. I couldn’t believe it. I was awestruck that he willingly returned to the hospital where he lost his family to help others. They didn’t take any blood from him of course, but everyone was inspired by this young hero. Now I see Omar’s eyes in every child, his strength and desire for a better future. That’s what all children want, and the world is failing them miserably.
All of us can help change that. We can contact politicians, we can ask them what they’re doing to protect children, we can go to the streets and show the world where we stand, we can donate to those who are risking everything to deliver desperately needed aid, and we can change the bleak future for millions of children. By supporting one school, you can put a smile on hundreds of faces; by supporting one clinic you can give hope to thousands of injured children. We shouldn’t rest until this madness stops.
I’ve found it’s very difficult to compete with a child when it comes to resilience. They rise from the ashes when everyone around them kneels, and in the darkest hours, when hope seems so distant, they give us the reason to stand up again, to look forward and keep going.
This blog was originally published on Sky.
*Name has been changed to protect identity