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Syria's War Seen Through Children's Eyes


Muhammed Najem stands in the rubble of his neighborhood in Arbin, Eastern Ghouta, Feb. 23, 2018.

The Syrian civil war's death toll is staggering, and civilians have increasingly borne its brunt, particularly children.

The U.N. International Children's Fund (UNICEF) issued a blank statement in February 2018 as a response to reports of mass casualties among children in Eastern Ghouta and Damascus. The statement was preceded with the message, "No words will do justice to the children killed, their mothers, their fathers and their loved ones."

In the midst of the violence and destruction, a number of Syrian children use social media to tell the tales of war to the outside world and provide a window into life and death in Syria.

Muhammed Najem, 15, uses his mobile phone to capture videos and images of Eastern Ghouta, his hometown.

His biggest hope is to be able to sit in a classroom one day and live a peaceful life.

Muhammed Najem is pictured amid the rubble of his school in Eastern Ghouta, Feb. 13, 2018.
Muhammed Najem is pictured amid the rubble of his school in Eastern Ghouta, Feb. 13, 2018.

"I want to travel, continue my study, and work on my English and my journalism skills," Najem told VOA.

When the Syrian government escalated its airstrikes as it pushed into Eastern Ghouta, Najem captured moments of the suffering as the city was besieged and the regime forces bombarded it with nonstop airstrikes.

Eastern Ghouta

Those inside the city were struggling for basic living needs.

Eastern Ghouta, a rebel stronghold, saw countless attacks over the years, but in February, the attacks took a new turn as the city was targeted by the bloodiest bombing campaign by the Bashar al-Assad regime in years.

Najem decided that the world needed to see the war through his eyes.

"He spoke in English because he thought he would reach more people," Najem's sister, Hiba, told VOA.

"He stopped going to school after it was destroyed in an airstrike. He used English words he learned when he was in school to deliver his message," she said.

Loss of father

Najem lost his father during a shelling in Eastern Ghouta. The war also claimed the life of his best friend, who was killed in an airstrike.

His experiences and losses forced him to act more like an adult, undertaking responsibilities children in his age normally don't even have to think about.

He began cutting and collecting wood for heat and bringing water from nearby wells to his family.

He also used his social media skills to tweet about everyday life.

"The [humanitarian] and [medical] situation in Eastern Ghouta is difficult to describe with words. What is happening now is genocide," Najem said in one a Twitter video earlier this year.

Muhammed Najem takes a selfie before evacuating from Eastern Ghouta to Idlib, March 26, 2018.
Muhammed Najem takes a selfie before evacuating from Eastern Ghouta to Idlib, March 26, 2018.

Najem was evacuated from Eastern Ghouta just days before the regime's chemical attack that killed and injured scores of civilians in the area.

As Najem and thousands of other civilians were bused to refugee camps in the north, he documented his journey.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates about 46,000 civilians and fighters were evacuated from the rebel enclave.

Najem still tweets from his refugee camp, and he has a message for the outside world:

"My message to the world is that our right as children is to live in peace and be able to go to school and play like any other child in this world."

Nour and Alaa embrace in Eastern Ghouta, March 12, 2018.
Nour and Alaa embrace in Eastern Ghouta, March 12, 2018.

Nour and Alaa

Nour and Alaa, 12 and 8 years old, respectively, caught the world's attention when the sisters started tweeting details of their daily lives under siege and bombardment in Eastern Ghouta.

Shams, their mother, created a joint Twitter account for them to provide a window of communication to the outside world and to appeal to the international community for help as living conditions deteriorated.

"Children in Eastern Ghouta were deprived from everything, food, water, school, home," Shams told VOA.

"Ghouta was ignored by the world, so I decided with my daughters to open a Twitter account to show the world what is going on," she said.

Nour and Alaa told VOA that at one point they lived underground for two months because of continued airstrikes.

"Many hundred civilians have been killed and injured," tweeted Nour and Alaa. "Yesterday there was a meeting [in the U.N. Security Council] but without result."

That meant, they said, that "there is no truce, no cease-fire and no hope, as warplanes and helicopters still target us."

Nour and Alaa stand in the rubble of their hometown in Eastern Ghouta, Feb. 23, 2018.
Nour and Alaa stand in the rubble of their hometown in Eastern Ghouta, Feb. 23, 2018.

Nour and Alaa told VOA the sky was never clear from warplanes and helicopters, striking their area day and night when they were in Eastern Ghouta.

Like Najem, Nour and Alaa stopped going to school after it was destroyed by a regime airstrike.

"Memories from #Ghouta / #Syria. This is a #school in #Jobar, they destroyed the schools and hospitals and mosques and all buildings, no building left [without] being hit by two or three missiles," the girls tweeted.

Children can't recall peace

The civil war has entered its eighth year and many Syrian children do not remember peace, because they were either born during war or were too young when the conflict began in 2011 to remember life before the conflict.

"Seeing my girls grow up in this war was very hard; seeing my children sleep hungry and terrified was painful. But hope springs eternally. We hope one day to return back to our homes in peace," Shams said.

Like Najem, the two sisters were also evacuated from Eastern Ghouta to northern Syria. While Najem is still in Syria, Nour and Alaa crossed into neighboring Turkey and live there as refugees.

But they have not forgotten about Syria.

"Please help the children of Syria. They deserve to live like other children in this world," Nour and Alaa told VOA.

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