If you’ve ever watched a child grow up, you’ll remember how precious those first four years of life were. Those first days when she felt so utterly fragile and dependent. Her first excited giggles and wobbly first steps. The new playdates and budding friendships.
These are the most formative years of our lives, when our minds are like big, thirsty sponges soaking up everything around us. But what if we were growing up without the peace and stability of Australian life? What if we were born into a war zone or sprawling refugee camp — what would we know of the world?
In 2015, we marked four years of the Syrian conflict and it came with a startling reminder: an entire generation of children are growing up knowing only war and deprivation.
This is a glimpse of the world through their eyes.
Yusuf, 3 days old
Yusuf entered the world in an extraordinary way. His mum, Nadya, was living in the Syrian town of Kobani when it was attacked by armed forces and she was forced to flee on foot. Nadya told us how, in the late stages of her pregnancy, she made the gruelling four-day walk to reach Turkey.
“I sank down when we got to the border.
They took me to hospital in an ambulance
immediately and I gave birth there.”
Yusuf is spending his first months of life surrounded by the chaos and profound stress of a refugee camp, far from his family’s home and community of support.
UNICEF is lending a hand with nappies, clothing and other essentials for refugee babies, and we’re giving mothers like Nadya the safe spaces and guidance they need to care for their newborns.
Yusuf is one of 114,000 Syrian children who have been born as refugees in neighbouring countries since the start of the conflict.
Hussein, 3 years old
Hussein is safe and warm now but he’s just escaped from an unimaginably hard life in the Syrian city of Old Homs.
For 18 months, the city was under siege and blockaded from any supplies. Hussein’s mum, Ahida, told us how food was desperately scarce.
“We started cooking grass and weed for
main meals ... We had little to eat for
ourselves but children get the first attention.”
“We waited for assistance for so long," Ahida continued. "Rumors kept doing the rounds that we will be rescued and the world will not let us simply die of hunger.”
Help finally came when the family was evacuated to the relative safety of a shelter in Homs. For the moment, Hussein can enjoy a good meal and some respite — UNICEF is supplying recreational kits so he can draw and play as every child should — but this three-year-old boy still faces a very uncertain future.
He will continue to wake up to a devastating war zone.
5.6 million children like Hussein now need urgent humanitarian assistance within Syria. 212,000 people are living under siege.
Hassan, 4 years old
Hassan was born unable to use his hands or legs — a disability that’s tremendously challenging in the most accommodating places, let alone the refugee camp where he lives in Turkey.
Children with disabilities like Hassan are often overlooked in humanitarian emergencies. Without the right support, they can’t get around the camp, access education or even a toilet. Everything is harder.
UNICEF is determined to change that, so we’ve set up a safe and inclusive environment where Hassan can play and learn with other kids. It’s called a Child Friendly Space and Hassan comes along twice a week to get involved. At first he was a bit shy and avoided other children but now he’s more comfortable and confident of himself. Hassan enjoys his drama activities most of all and he’s taking big strides in his communication skills.
More than 2 million Syrian kids like Hassan are now living as refugees outside of Syria.