LEBANON: BORN ON MARCH 15, 2011, THE VERY DAY THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR BROKE OUT IN HER COUNTRY, EVENTUALLY LEADING TO THE DEATH OF AT LEAST 250,000 PEOPLE, INAAM HAS KNOWN NOTHING EXCEPT A LIFE SHAPED BY CONFLICT
Dark curly hair. Sweet and piercing eyes. The ability to engage her interlocutor with innocence and, at the same time, ancient wisdom. Inaam is a child of war. During her short but extremely intense lifetime, she has known little but violence, deprivation, and uncertainty. Inaam was born on March 15, 2011, the very day the Syrian Civil War broke out in her country, eventually leading to the death of at least 250,000 people. Since her birth, she has known nothing except a life shaped by conflict. The only place she has learned to call home is the tent where she currently lives with her sisters Shaima and Isram in dusty Marj el Kok, a refugee camp outside Marjayoun, Lebanon. The camp is home to 1,200 Syrian refugees.
“This is her dad,” says Turky Hassam, Inaam's grandmother. “He had many debts back in Syria, so when we fled to Lebanon, he couldn’t join us. He bought a car to support his family, but he wasn’t a good driver, so one day while he was learning how to drive with his cousin, a group of armed man took the car and killed them both.”
“Daddy,” screams the little five-year-old joining the conversation and holding a small and ripped picture of her father.
“I keep showing her the picture, so she can remember him,” explains Turky. “I keep telling her: this is your father. He was a good man.”
As she grows older, every time Inaam sees the picture, she has more questions. Why did they have to leave their house? Why couldn’t her father come with them to Lebanon? Why are they living in a refugee camp? These are questions that haunt not only this five-year-old, but every Syrian child under the age of five. UNICEF estimates that there are 2.9 million children inside Syria and at least 811,000 in neighboring countries who were born since March 2011. In addition, UNICEF reports that since onset of the war, 15,525 unaccompanied and separated minors have crossed Syria’s borders, and an estimated 306,000 Syrian children have been born as refugees.
“It’s the war,” simply answers Turky every time Inaam has a question.
Inaam’s mother remarried a few years ago and moved to Beeka with her new husband. Since then, she rarely visits the girls. Sometimes she calls, but in the last two years she came to visit only once. Turky now takes care of the three sisters with the help of AVSI, an international humanitarian NGO which has been working with Syrian refugees in Marj El Kok since 2011.
“Inaam is a child of war. She has spent her short life running from one village to another, and for the last three years she has been living here in the refugee camp,” tells AVSI’s Lebanon communication officer, Jihane Rahal. “We make sure that these children have access to education, because we believe it is a fundamental tool against violence. We teach them Arabic but also English.”
In Inaam’s camp, like in the others where AVSI works, the priority is formal and non-formal education. Moreover, thanks to a partnership with UNICEF, AVSI has been able to offer Child Protection and GBV (Gender Based Violence) awareness sessions to refugee women. Soon, the NGO will also provide vocational training (sewing, carpets making, etc) to Syrian youth and women inside and outside the camps.
“Since 2011, we have been providing drinking water in the water tanks that the international NGO has placed in most of the camps and we have been distributing food and non-food item kits,” says Marco Perini, AVSI Country Representative in Lebanon. “Last year, we also helped Syrian, Lebanese and Iraqis vulnerable men through a program called Cash for Work. Instead of simply hand them cash, we paid men who live in the camp for their work.”
While the war destroys her country, living in a refugee camp is a hard, but safe choice. When she is not studying, Inaam likes to play with her dolls and run around with her sisters and the other children. Like any other five-year-old child.
“Sometimes, though, I look at them and I notice that they are different from the other children living in the camp…but it’s normal…they don’t have a father…or a mother,” Turky explains. “To make them feel better I keep promising them that soon we will be back home. If God wants, soon we will all be back home. Soon…”
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