Adnan - A Child of SyriaFebruary 4, 2015
Adnan* is five years of age and from Syria.
Almost three years ago, during the summer of 2012, when he was only two, he was playing near his village in northern Syria when he saw his father running towards him. At that point, the civil war in Syria had already been raging for a year and a half.
The villagers had spotted a plane in the sky and, like Adnan’s father, they were seeking loved ones and fleeing for cover. His dad gathered him in his arms and put him on the back of his motorcycle with his mother and older sister.
They hadn’t travelled far when the barrel bomb exploded beside them.
Adnan’s father and sister were killed instantly. His mother was seriously injured, but survived.
As for Adnan, the villagers found him a day later cowering amidst the branches of a nearby tree. They had continued to search for him because they failed to find any trace of his body.
It is no wonder that our guide, Ahmed Salem, a Syrian aid worker with GOAL - and himself a young father - broke down in tears as he was translating this story for our group of visitors.
While incidents like this will always remain brutal to relate, and heart-wrenching to hear, Ahmed doesn’t need anyone to tell him that they have been occurring on a depressingly regular basis throughout Syria for more than four years.
Just a couple of weeks ago, an air strike hit a school in Aleppo and killed nine people, including five children.
Since the start of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, more than 250,000 people have been killed and one million have been injured. There is no further breakdown by age or sex for those figures, but we do know that of the 12.2 million people who require some form of humanitarian assistance (both inside and outside the country) over five million are children.
We met Adnan at a Syrian orphanage in a small border town between Turkey and Syria. The orphanage is run by a Syrian charity called The Maram Foundation. It opened six months ago and caters exclusively for Syrian children who lost one or both parents to the conflict.
The manager, Mayada, and her staff of 24 provide hot meals, recreation, shelter, access to education, psychological support and other essential services to 55 children aged between two and 10 years
The centre has capacity for 75 children. Sadly, that limit will likely be reached sooner rather than later.
The psychological support provided for each child is an essential service. Apart from the distress of losing one or both parents, some children, such as Adnan, have witnessed their deaths, usually in cruel and shocking circumstances.
As Ahmed translates, Mayada explains how one party of combatants put 16 bullets into a 60-year-old man for the crime of trying to protect his eight children from potential recruitment by the same group. The children all witnessed their father’s death. The youngest is at the orphanage today.
The body of another man was sent back to his family. Unfortunately, the corpse, which had clear signs of torture, was seen by his two children. They are also being cared for at the centre.Mayada says that the children reveal the psychological effects of their experiences in different ways. Some have speech disorders, some become aggressive, others cry. One boy, who lost both parents in quick succession, initially expressed his frustration at something as small as not liking a toy by repeatedly banging his head against the wall.
Many of the children just wanted their mum or dad. Most still do.
Adnan, Mayada tells us, is doing well, which is heartening to hear. When he came here first, he cried every day. Thankfully, his grandparents and the orphanage staff have worked hard to try to help him forget the incident, although it is unlikely that it will ever be fully erased from his memory.
For Adnan, as it is with everyone affected by the Syria conflict, it can only be one day at a time.
*Adnan’s name has been changed to protect his identity. The visit to the orphanage took place in February, 2015.
All interviews and images associated with, or included in, this article were captured using an iPhone 5S