An 8-year-old Syrian refugee child named Layla* shares, “I saw my cousin dying in front of me, so I always see this scene in front of my eyes.”
As children all over North America happily rummage through the cheerful remains of Christmas Day’s joys -- festive gift wrap strewn about, the latest version of Halo blaring from 40-inch television screens -- the existence of Syrian children presently seeking refuge in Lebanon is one far less carefree.
In this season of joy, it’s difficult to fathom that at least 66,000 children like Layla are coping with the loss of home and childhood as their families struggle to survive the displacement of war and onset of a cold, snowy winter in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
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Over the past three months, Syrian refugees have poured across Lebanon’s borders at an exponentially increasing rate. UNHCR reports that 154,387 Syrian refugees are currently residing in Lebanon.
Nearly 75 percent of these refugees are women and children. These children, who should be focused on homework and playing, are instead grappling with educational upheaval, a lack of stability, and anxiety and exposure as they face uncertain futures and adapt to life in a foreign country whose host communities do not fully accept them.***
In short, Syrian refugee children are bearing burdens no child anywhere should ever have to carry.
Unfortunately, experiences like those of Layla are not uncommon. In Robbed of Childhood, Running from War, a newly released World Vision report, World Vision found many children willing to share openly and “at length about violence, death and the politics of war.”
In the report, which surveys 100 Syrian children aged 7-13 in the Central and Western Bekaa region of Lebanon, children spoke with World Vision staff “about images of their homes and schools burning, people getting shot and tanks roving their neighborhoods. Even indirect exposure to violence such as images of dead bodies on the news, continues to haunt them.”
One child told World Vision:
“My three brothers died in Syria. They were younger than me. They shot my brothers when they were playing with their friends on the street.”
The experiences of these children make one’s heart heavy. Even as someone who has worked with survivors of humanitarian crises around the world, I cannot imagine a situation in which my very young son -- who should freely enjoy an existence crashing toy dump trucks around our living room -- bearing the devastation and politics of war. But children who have fled Syria are doing just that.
“My brother is 13 and used to go to school in Syria. Here he works with steel.”
“My sister, 15, used to go to school, but here she works at a laundry shop.”
Like many displaced children in humanitarian crises throughout the world, Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are sometimes forced to choose work over school. The reasons for this are many -- including challenges with enrollment, language barriers (while Syrian children are taught in Arabic, the Lebanese system includes English and French), and the economic pressures facing refugee families.
I cannot imagine a world in which my son has to get out of middle school to support our family’s financial needs. But this is the reality facing Syrian refugee children every day.
In the midst of holiday festivities, after Christmas sales and time with dear family and friends, consider coming alongside Syrian refugee children in Lebanon to help them shoulder burdens children should never bear.
Now that’s a world worth imagining.
Elizabeth Ranade-Janis is the program management officer for the World Vision humanitarian & emergency affairs team.
Make a donation to help us respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. The number of refugees fleeing conflict-ridden Syria has tripled in the last three months, according to the United Nations. More than 100,000 registered Syrian refugees are in Lebanon, where World Vision has been providing basic hygiene kits and food vouchers to help them survive. Your gift will support this urgent response.
*At the request of parents, the names of all children have been changed to protect identities.
**Note that this number represents only the Syrian refugees who feel it is safe to official register with UNHCR; there are many others believed to be living in Lebanon.
***From Robbed of Childhood, Running from War, World Vision, December 2012.