His dark eyes glare at the camera as if it caught him doing something forbidden. He holds a pen. The nine-year-old boy doesn't attend school because of the crisis in his country. The caption says he misses school but, "I carry a pen with me wherever I go and write on anything I can."
The photograph of Moaz from Eastern Ghouta, Syria, is part of an exhibition in the rotunda of a U.S. Senate office building. It captures the human spirit persevering against all odds, despite living in the midst of a five-year-long conflict that has killed about 400,000 people.
"The Syrian people, if you talk to them, they feel like they've been left alone," says Dr. Lina Murad of the Syrian American Medical Society. Murad left Syria years ago to escape the Assad government. She says the lack of international monetary assistance has meant a complete collapse of humanitarian support.
'Nation of heroes'
A team of Syrian volunteers took the photos in different regions of the country to show what they call "a nation of heroes who are doing everything they can to live, to love and to dream."
The Humans of Syria project aims to reach behind the statistics, combat pictures, and global maneuvering to show the real Syria. The photographers spoke at the opening of the exhibit via video message.
Their photographs are arranged in two circles below the high dome of the U.S. Capitol building, in a barren, yet stately space that echoes with footsteps from offices above. The faces look outward from the center of the area, as if begging to speak and tell their stories. The captions do it for them.
Four toddlers stand outside ruins in Idlib province. The arched stone cave door leads to their home after their father was killed in the war and their mother left to remarry.
A 12-year-old from Aleppo attaches lug nuts onto a tire. He started working two years ago after his school was bombed.
"What we don't understand here is that half the population of Syria is displaced, internally or externally," said Murad, who is quick to add that government policies, not other humans, are failing her people.
'Scar on our country'
Senator Bob Corker, a Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee spoke at the opening of the exhibit.
"This will go down as one of the greatest humanitarian disasters of modern time and we stood by and let this happen," he said.
Corker has long criticized the Obama administration for not putting the U.S. military on the ground in Syria early in the conflict. "This is a scar on our country," he said.
The groups represented support House Resolution 5732 — The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act — which promises accountability for Syrian human rights abusers and an analysis of possible no-fly and safe zones. Critics call it a "pro-war bill" that will lead to further U.S. intervention in Syria. The resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives in July.
In the meantime, a photo stands out. It shows an artist who is wearing a surgical mask to avoid breathing the dust of a bombed building. He has drawn a picture of a little girl in a dress, standing on a pile of skulls.
The little girl is stretching above her head to write the word "Hope."