18 March 2022 - Syria

11 Years Later - Is Their Childhood a Lost Dream?

Sarah* looking out of a window

“I feel like I’ve condemned my beautiful children to a life of pain, with no future to look forward to nor a past they can remember.”

To many, 11 years of war in Syria equals 11 years of a rootless life and no place to call home.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Lebanon, where around 1.5 million Syrian refugees remain displaced following the war. This accounts for nearly a quarter of Lebanon’s total population, the highest proportion of refugees anywhere in the world.

Lebanon’s compounded socio-economic and health crisis has hit the most vulnerable Lebanese and refugee families the hardest. Nine out of ten Syrian refugees are living in extreme poverty across the country. Syrian refugee children are bearing the brunt of this – their childhoods, and their futures, are now at risk.

Seeking safety, abandoning dreams

While seeking refuge from a war-torn country, one is forced to carry two things: identification documents and an unbreakable will to survive. In pursuit of survival, sacrifices are made. Walid* gave up his dream of an education and Narjis* gave up her family land.

In Lebanon, Walid* and Narjis* got married and started planning for a bright future – for themselves, and most importantly, for their five young children. Unfortunately, with every passing day, their plans became less unattainable. They have now dwindled to ensuring their family’s basic needs are met.

I had a dream to become a geography teacher. After I lost that dream, I thought I knew what heartbreak was. Now I know better. True heartbreak is the realisation that my children will have no future,” says 33 year-old Walid*.

Walid* has been out of work for nearly two years, and Narjis* does odd cleaning jobs when she can. She’s paid 50,000 LBP for each job, equivalent to $2.27. Their main concern is having enough money for rent and to put food on the table. Everything else is a luxury.

A childhood lost

Having to grow up before their time is not a novel concept for Syrian refugee children, whether they were born in Lebanon or Syria. They have witnessed and endured struggles and made sacrifices, often fearing for their lives and those of their families and friends.

Three years ago, Narjis’s* sister and her family were sheltering in a school when a bomb hit. There were no survivors. Today, her daughter, eight-year-old Sarah*, refuses to go to school or leave her parents’ side.

This is the experience of thousands of Syrian children who have grown up in or have been exposed to conflict. This unthinkable distress will undoubtedly leave long term mental and psychosocial scars.

Children like Sarah* should have the opportunity to play, learn, and just be children – instead, they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, worrying about whether there is enough food to eat, or having to drop out of school to support their families.

And the situation for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is getting worse, as it is for everyone. According to a new vulnerability assessment, 30% of school aged Syrian refugee children have never been to school. A fifth of all 15-19 year old Syrian girls are married. And the number of Syrian refugee children working has more than doubled since 2019.

In the past, Sarah* and her siblings would ask for new clothes and toys to celebrate Eid. Now they know better – the response from their parents is always ‘hopefully tomorrow’, which has become code for ‘we can’t afford it’.

A sense of belonging

The few pictures I have from my life back in Syria, help my children understand our history and culture. They don’t ask questions about our homeland, but I want to make sure they know who they are and where they come from. I want them to know of my Syria,” says 30 year-old Narjis*.

Imagine being a child born in a foreign country, to parents who fled the only home they knew to seek safety.

Imagine living in inappropriate and hazardous housing conditions, and being subjected to stereotyping and bullying upon uttering your first word.

Imagine struggling to know you who are and where you belong. Imagine searching through the debris for your identity.

This is the reality for thousands of Syrian refugees across the country. 11 years later, they need and deserve the best we have to give.

Save the Children is supporting families like Narjis’s* and Walid’s* with case management, emergency cash assistance, and regular mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services, as well as trying to help with access to education.