At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Sharing cherished memories provides vital comfort for Syrian children

By Shushan Mebrahtu and Masoud Hasen

QAMISHLI, Syrian Arab Republic, 29 December 2015 – “He always bought us the best clothes and took us for walks in the gardens of Aleppo, where we’d have our lunch in the open air,” says Ghaithaa, 13. 

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2015/Soliman
Sisters Ghaithaa, Israa and Aisha, at home. The girls have suffered great loss during the Syrian conflict and find some solace in a child-friendly space in Qamishli.

“Do you remember how we would visit our relatives during holidays?” she asks, encouraging her sisters to share their stories. Israa’s face lights up. “He would celebrate my birthday every year and bring me gifts and toys,” the 11-year-old girl remembers. “One birthday, he had 25,000 Syrian pounds, which he spent all on gifts and clothes for me and my sisters; he did not buy himself one thing.”

Aisha, 8, nods, as she, too, remembers that day. “He bought me a butterfly dress!” she cries, a grin spreading across her face.

The girls are recalling their favourite memories of their father, killed by a sniper’s bullet in Aleppo three years earlier.

Years of loss

In the years since their father died, the girls have experienced further loss. Their mother remarried and moved with her new family to Lebanon, leaving the sisters behind. Now, they live with their grandparents and 15 other family members, mostly children, in a rented three-bedroom house in Qamishli.

“His last words to me were: ‘Take care of my girls’,” says Um-Ali, the girls’ grandmother. “He repeated that three times before he went back to Aleppo to get a few belongings. He never returned.”

Um-Ali cherishes her son’s last request. She tries to take care of her grandchildren as best she can, but she and the other adults in the household struggle to provide everything the children need.


© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2015/Soliman
The girls cheer with friends, at the child-friendly space. Here, they are encouraged to share memories, as a way of coping with loss.

“Ghaithaa complains of her falling hair due to a scalp condition, and Aisha is always squinting because she needs glasses, which I don’t have enough money to buy,” she says. “I can hardly secure food, and I only buy them used clothes. All we have to keep warm this winter is a small fireplace where we burn cartons and nylon bags collected from the streets.”

Facing hardship

In the face of such hardship, the girls remain remarkably resilient. They insist that, despite having lost two years of schooling, their education is paramount. Every morning, Ghaithaa, Israa and Aisha attend school. In the afternoon, they visit a UNICEF-supported centre, where they play with other children and take part in activities designed to help them cope with their situation. It is during these sessions that the girls are encouraged to share their memories, rather than to bottle them up, as a way of coming to terms with their loss.

“I love going to the centre with my sisters,” Ghaithaa smiles. “I want to continue my education and become a doctor when I grow up. I want to meet my friends again and have better days than our days now.”

From January to November 2015, UNICEF provided almost 410,000 children like Ghaithaa, Israa and Aisha with psychosocial support services in communities and schools in the Syrian Arab Republic. Because of the ever-changing situation on the ground, demand for the services that we provide is outstripping our ability to supply them.

In 2015, UNICEF appealed for US $279 million to respond to children’s needs inside the Syrian Arab Republic. As of November 2015, we have received 62 per cent of the funds we need, leaving a funding gap of 38 per cent, or US$106.7million. If the funding gap is not closed, safe drinking water and sanitation services will be jeopardized. Children may lose their education opportunities. Health services will face drastic cuts. Children will not receive psychosocial support.



New enhanced search