By Souleyma Mardam Bey
Four-year-old Adnan will never forget the two minutes when his entire world was turned upside down. The flames destroying his home in the Syrian Arab Republic also ruined his childhood. He escaped two months ago with his family and found shelter in north Lebanon, where they live in abject poverty. While his siblings are slowly getting over their traumatic experiences, Adnan has hardly overcome his grief. His body and face are badly burned. His pain is unspeakable. This little boy has lost the power of speech and is just starting to learn his first words again, as if he had never spoken before.
AKKAR region, Lebanon, 13 March 2013 – When their home in Hama, western Syrian Arab Republic, was hit by a rocket, Adnan’s parents could not manage to take their son out in time. “He did not stay that long in the fire. Not more than two minutes. But the fire was very harsh on him,” his father recalls.
Scared of everything
With a look of exhaustion, despair and profound sadness, Adnan’s mother describes how he is psychologically affected in his everyday life by the shock he underwent.
He cries all night and is scared of everything, feeling hopeless when his parents leave him for just one second, she explains. Anytime someone outside the family approaches him, he feels threatened – even in the presence of his parents.
“In general, the children are quiet,” says Adnan’s father. “When they hear the sound of a plane or a car that is a bit too noisy, they are scared. But now, little by little, they are beginning to adapt and to feel more secure. Except Adnan, who is constantly afraid, especially at night. As soon as the sun is gone, he starts crying.”
Adnan, his parents and his ten siblings fled the Syrian Arab Republic two months ago and arrived in the village of Sheikh Ayash in Akkar region, northern Lebanon, in complete destitution.
“This is their lot!”
Despite the proximity to their country – a mere 3 km – Adnan’s parents and siblings feel much safer here. But Adnan is not settling and still feels endangered.
Sheltering in a makeshift tent pitched in a sea of mud and rubbish – the only playing area for children – the family are living in extremely tough conditions, which exacerbates Adnan’s trauma. The pain goes, indeed, beyond his burns and includes hunger, cold weather and immense lack of basic needs.
Adnan, his siblings and the other children consider themselves lucky when they find raw turnips. Some of them eat them directly, while others toss them in the fire to warm their meal a little bit. Adnan’s father observes the children gathered outside around the fire and exclaims, with a look of perplexity and sadness, “No one would ever eat this except Syrian children! This is their lot!”
Children at the heart of the crisis
Children are at the heart of this crisis and the first to be psychologically affected by the terrible violence they witness.
Bombs, rockets, bullets, shelling – children have not been spared from any of it.
Because his parents cannot afford it, Adnan is not following any treatment to recover from his physical injuries. Like many refugees, the family are struggling to stay informed of initiatives implemented by international and local organizations to support them. This is a challenge in Lebanon, where the refugee population is widely scattered across the country and the registration figures are underestimated.
Since arriving in Lebanon, Adnan and his siblings have never been to school; the cost of transportation is one of the many hurdles of their new situation.
Help to overcome trauma
According to the United Nations agency for refugees (UNHCR), to date, there are 332,297 Syrian refugees registered or waiting to be registered, and seeking shelter in Lebanon – 52 per cent are children. However, many reports – including government accounts – emphasize much higher figures.
To support refugee children from the Syrian Arab Republic, like Adnan, UNICEF is addressing both the immediate and long-term impact of the atrocities they have been through. UNICEF has established 37 child-friendly spaces and a mobile van reaching nine communities. This initiative aims to provide children with a wide range of psychosocial activities – currently benefitting 17,062 children – to alleviate the pain and help them overcome trauma, rebuild their lives and constructively resume a normal childhood.