A letter to Muna, for our birthday

Meg Sattler, Syria crisis response communications manager for World Vision International, has been reporting from Jordan about the Syrian refugee crisis.

Today, Meg writes a heart-breaking letter to Muna, a Syrian child who shares her same birthday, exploring all the things she doesn't know how to explain to this innocent little girl.

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Dear Muna,

It’s been hard to stop thinking about you since we met the other day. Perhaps it’s because we share a birthday. You turned one. I turned 29.

When I was born, my mum knew I wasn’t going to wait. She gathered her things, rushed to the hospital, and shouted at nurses who told her I wasn’t ready. In her words, I "flew out," my father just having time to meet me before fainting and being carried away on a stretcher.

When you were born, your mum had the same instinct. She hurried to her midwife’s home. The hospital wasn’t an option, because there was a war, and she didn’t feel safe there. She gave birth to you on August 15. Your father didn’t faint because he wasn’t there.

When I came home from hospital, I moved into a bedroom in our half-renovated home with my big sister and our pet corgi. You didn’t get to go home. Because while your mother was giving birth to you, your house was blown up.

I’m writing you this letter, which you’ll never see, because there are so many things that I want to explain to you, but I can’t. So I write about them when I get home.

I don’t know how to explain to you, for example, that your mother loves you, even though she often can’t bear to be around you because you remind her of the war in Syria. I know that she loves you because she’s put you in the care of your grandfather, and I’ve never witnessed such love as exists between the two of you. Despite the horrible circumstances that brought you together, I can’t help but smile.

I don’t know how to tell you that after your birth, your very survival was a miracle; that 100,000 other people died in your country as your life was just beginning.

I don’t know how to explain that the reason you drink sugary drinks instead of milk is that your mother’s body is too stressed to produce it, and to buy cow’s or goat’s milk is too expensive for a family of 18 in a foreign land with no income. I don’t know how to explain that even though this tastes good, it is not good for you.

As a humanitarian worker, you might expect me to make things better for you. So I don’t know how to tell you that the Syria peace talks have been delayed, again. That every day more people are dying, and more children are suffering, and that people in other countries are too busy to talk about it. While your mother carried you for days amid rocket fire, with no possessions, to keep you safe.

After I left your home, I visited one of your neighbors. She is the same age as your mum. Two of her brothers had been killed. Her children are now frightened of planes and fireworks. Her son is obsessed with playing with guns. She told me that surely the Syrian refugees must be on the televisions and front pages of newspapers all over the world. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that they’re not.

The hardest thing for me is that I don’t know how to tell you that the humanitarian community doesn’t have enough money to help you. I see family after family scraping by, kids falling further and further behind in school, dealing with experiences that keep them awake at night.

The number of people affected by the fighting in your homeland is increasing by the day. But the dollars are not. Millions of people need help, quickly, with everything: food, safety, water, healthcare, diapers, toilets, education. Long term, they’ll need infrastructure, jobs, schools. Commitments have been pledged but aren’t enough. We’re not doing enough. We can’t.

I thought about you, Muna, on our birthday, two days after we met. I wondered how your family celebrated your first year, spent in a foreign land. I was in a foreign land, too; Australia seemed very far away.

An elderly Syrian woman asked me yesterday to put out a call for help on her behalf. “I hope that the outside world could support us,” she said, “to understand the situation we’re in, and to send us some help.” Daily, I hear stories and share concerns, handshakes, and coffee with Syrians affected by this conflict. This places me in a privileged position to tell the world what I’m seeing here.

But it’s not easy. Sometimes I’d just like to ask everyone to imagine the feeling that comes with sitting in the homes of mothers, who are listing their seemingly endless needs, and wondering what on earth you’re going to tell them.

My hope for you, little Muna, is that this crisis doesn’t take away your right to a childhood, as it already has so many others. This is not going to be easy, and will require work, humanity, and commitment from a lot of different people, in a lot of different places.

So this year, on August 15, I blew out my candles for both of us. And instead of making a promise I wasn’t sure I could keep, I made a wish.


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