After her escape from her family's home destroyed by a shell from the Syrian regime’s army, Maria was shocked by seeing the rubble of her school, where she had first learned writing and reading.
She fled her native city of Deir al-Zour to Qamishli, but images of the devastation in the region, do not leave her memory.
The ten year old girl spoke to Rozana with tears streaming down her face: "The view of my school, Yusuf al-Azmah school, does not leave my imagination. I miss my colleagues and the wooden seats of my school; but the Syrian army shells beat me to it…"
Maria was unable to complete her sentence, her voice choking with tears, leaving her mother to continue telling what happened to them: "because of the horrors we witnessed that day, my uncle went into a deep depression from which he has not recovered so far, despite the passage of two years on that incident. How, then, will I even begin to describe what happened to Maria, my daughter?"
Going to School? A Luxury
War prompted Syrian children to leap out of their childhood. Their perceptions have changed and they are now speaking the language of adults, their thoughts have become filled with violence and war; which affects them and their education—that is if they are even able to pursue one.
Many of the children who have been displaced from their areas, have not had the opportunity to complete their studies, because of their families’ circumstances. Some were forced to work, in order to support their family.
The "Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees,” has announced in the past month of April that the number of Syrian refugees exceeded one million, of whom circa four hundred thousand were school-age children. Almost three-quarters of these children, do not have the opportunity to pursue their education.
Children, The Victims of War
If the situation in Syria has left its scars on adults, its impact on young children is exponentially compounded, as their cognitive and emotional development has not yet reached maturity. UNICEF confirmed in March of last year, that most Syrian children are living in a continuous condition of suffering and pain, which portends a grave peril.
Psychologist Muhammad Ali Osman, says that children are more severely affected by crises. They retain traumatic events and experiences they lived through, taking into account the limited experience and knowledge they possess to deal with them.
Osman adds that this damage, if not treated in the early stages, will manifest its effects later in three manners. The first is behavioral, characterized by aggressive behavior, thumb-sucking, and involuntary urination. The second is emotional, characterized by depression, fear and sadness. The third is mental and cognitive, characterized by lack of focus, straying, dispersion and forgetfulness; all of which, according to this specialist, lead to poor academic achievement.
Therefore, it is imperative to provide psychosocial support for children, via multiple activities as a type of discharge for negative emotions, says Osman; pointing out that these disorders, if not treated, may turn into mental illness in later advanced stages.
Civic Organizations Providing Release for Children
Amid the absence of care homes to house displaced children and provide them with adequate psychological support, several civil society organizations in Qamishli are trying to relieve them, and to organize recreational activities for them—whether for refugees or city residents. One of these organizations is the psychological support team of the Shaweshka Association for Women, an independent organization.
Jehan, a member of the AHEN psychological support team at organization, says that "A team of about 12 volunteers has provided psychosocial support to more than one thousand children, through circa 37 recreational activities—first and foremost through the storyteller activity, as well as plays and interactive musical concerts."
The HELEN Association for Child Welfare, also organized recreational activities, in an attempt to provide space and emotional release for these children.
On this, Abdel-Salam, a member of the Association says: "We conducted recreational activities for children to attempt to contribute to easing their pain, as well as correct some of the ideas infused in their minds during the war. The Association therefore conducted outdoor activities, such as plays and competitions in public parks."
Childish Dreams for the End to War
Most of the Syrian children displaced in Qamishli found it difficult to cope with their new reality. They have, therefore, each in their own way attempted to paint a dream of the war's end, wishing it to be achieved in the future.
After wiping her tears, Maria said: "The only hope I had, was when I was talking with my school friends, themselves migrants from other regions, about our city, memories, and beautiful places."
Majeed from Deir al-Zour made a drawing depicting his dream he dearly wishes might come true. In his dream he wished that his native city would be liberated, and that electricity would come.
This is the reality of Syria’s children: all that is left of their childhood memories are the images of devastation, and their student seats which failed and abandoned them—even, in some cases, becoming their burial grounds.