When my grandmother lived in a nursing home, her roommate had a strange affinity with the “bad news” of the world. She was a classic Eeyore personality type. My family and I could scarcely step onto the threshold of her room before she would begin to relay some recent devastation and lament the fall of the world. I once told Ms. Ella that I was going to publish a newspaper when I grew up with all the good news in the world. She smugly (and honestly) responded, “Well, honey. You’re going to go broke.”
When it comes to the news, there seems to be a strange dichotomy of either obsessing over what is published on our news outlets or turning away and ignoring current events altogether. Quite honestly, I tend to fall on the side of ignorance within two extremes. I would much rather nurture my optimistic personality with “happily ever after” stories than be weighed down by the destruction that goes on in the world day in and day out.
However, I was recently jolted awake from my own state of unknowing when I began to read about the current crisis in Syria. Sure, I’ve known general statistics about the conflict, and I’ve been aware and saddened by the Syrian refugee crisis.
But I did not know that half of the Syrian refugees are children. I did not know that 1-2 million Syrian children who have been forced to flee their homes are between the ages of 12 and 18. I did not know that 68% of these children have not been able to attend school due to social, legal, or economic barriers. I did not know that an estimated 60,000 Syrian refugee children work in order to help their families survive. I had never really thought about the trauma these children have faced, these children who have witnessed the death of their parents or brothers or sisters, who have witnessed their neighbors and friends killed, tortured, or raped, while hearing the sound of bombs and gunfire day in and day out. Suddenly the magnitude of this crisis became very real to me. These children are the future of Syria, the ones who will be given the task of rebuilding their homes and their country. They deserve our utmost concern and attention.
Mercy Corps recently conducted a survey of 350 male and female Syrian refugees and host-community adolescents in order to identify best practices for engaging this young community of war-torn refugees and facilitating an empowering, healing environment. Some of the key recommendations they outline in their report “Syrian Adolescents: Their Tomorrow Begins Today” are to “provide psychosocial support to reduce isolation and hopelessness,” “establish safe spaces for girls,” “reduce barriers to education and provide alternative learning options,” “support goal-setting and planning,” “support involvement in community initiatives,” and “build employability and vocational skills.” Trauma, specifically “big T trauma” which most of these children have experienced, can have long-term damaging effects. Without the presence of intervention measures, many turn to aggression for protection and isolation as a coping mechanism. Stress and anxiety are often manifested in behaviors/symptoms such as wetting the bed, panic attacks and night terrors. Essentially, their brains are in a constant state of survival.
Luckily, there is hope – studies show that our brains, especially the brains of children, are highly resilient. This generation will not be permanently debilitated if appropriate intervention measures are implemented such as the child-friendly spaces Mercy Corps organizes that have three goals: protection, psychological wellbeing, and healthy social integration, as well as their Comfort for Kids program which implements writing and drawing workbook exercises to help vulnerable youth tell their story.
But action must be taken now. It is estimated that 35 years of development were lost in the first 3 years of the Syrian crisis alone. As you look at the faces of the Syrian refugee children, imagine your children, your nieces or nephews. You would want the same care given to your children if the same crisis was taking place here.
“My picture is of five of us with our fingers put together in a star. Together, we are like a star, and this picture is for me to always remember them, and how my love has grown for them. These girls have become more valuable to me than sisters.”
– Female Adolescent, Jordan
“I drew the Syrian flag as a vase, and three roses in it, because I have hope in the rise of Syria again.”