Hossam* and Shimaa* are both 12 years old. They are both sheltering with their families in buildings in Homs. Here, they talk about how the crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic has torn their lives apart.
HOMS, Syrian Arab Republic (April 2, 2013) — Hossam, 12, lives in a school building.
“I have been living here with my father, my stepmother, my two siblings and stepsister for one year. We also have here with us my grandfather, and my uncle and my aunt’s families,” he says.
The school was turned into a shelter for displaced families in Homs. Hossam’s family moved from one place to another looking for a place in which the family could stay together in one place, with some safety, before settling in the school. They are from an area in Homs that is uninhabitable because of fierce attacks and destruction.
Children and their families in the Syrian Arab Republic continue to be uprooted by the violence — some, more than once, as fighting moves from one place to another.
“We used to live with my grandfather first, but, because of the fighting, and because people came and killed children, we went to live with my aunt in another area. But there, too, fighting started, so we moved to a village,” Hossam explains.
“But while we were staying in the village,” he adds, “we missed our relatives. We called my grandfather, and he told us that he moved to this district, so we decided to come here.”
Hossam is enrolled in primary school, and he attends remedial classes. Many other children have been out of school, some of them for up to two years.
“I am not happy here. I miss home where no one humiliated us. There are kids here who don’t let us play with the ball. They took away our ball, kept kicking it so hard until it broke,” he says. Some older adolescents in the shelter have been bullying younger children. “And if we want to sit in the corridor, they beat us and tell us to get back to our rooms. They don’t let others be happy.”
In collective shelters where displaced families live, often in old public buildings, schools or unfinished housing compounds, strangers have to share spaces with each other, sometimes even one room, divided only by hanging blankets. The lack of privacy adds to the hardship of living in a facility that lacks basic services such as hot water and heating.
Shimaa, 12, says that she hasn’t been to school at all this year. “I never joined sixth grade,” she says. “We came here when shelling got bad in our neighborhood.”
Her family was displaced from one of the areas in Homs most affected by heavy fighting. They’ve taken refuge in one of the unfinished residential buildings in the city of Homs. They have put some mattresses on the floor of the building’s basement and settled there.
“I am not happy,” Shimaa says, “because being home was so much better. All of us were living together in one home. We lost a lot.”
Shimaa’s uncle and two cousins were killed because of the fighting. Some of her relatives are still trapped in one of the conflict areas of Homs. They can only communicate with them occasionally, by phone, when there is a phone connection.
Four weeks ago, Shimaa started attending UNICEF-supported remedial classes. She describes her days: “I wake up early and go to classes. I finish at noon, go back to the shelter and help my mother with housework. I then do my homework and play with my siblings.”
Despite the fear, displacement and deep loss that her family has experienced, Shimaa displays strong determination about her future. “I want to be a doctor — a general practitioner — to help the world. With God’s help, I believe I can do it. Most of all, I want to help the orphans.”
Children displaced by the conflict express the same feeling. They long desperately to go home. They want to regain their normal lives and reunite with family members, relatives and friends.
When asked what he wishes the most, Hossam says, “I want to go home and live with my mother.”
Unfortunately though, as long as the violence and destruction continue to tear the country apart, Hossam and his peers’ wishes will remain unrealized.
*Names have been changed.