Syria crisis: Children Pay the Price
By Mona Monzer, Communications, Media and Advocacy Coordinator, Save the Children Lebanon.
I met Tourki in a tented settlement in the Bekaa Valley on rainy April day, exceptionally cold and windy for a Lebanese April. I was taking a media crew from ABC Australia to meet new arrivals from Idlib and Aleppo in Syria – refugees who were living in tough conditions with only irregular access to water, electricity and food.
On our way back, I noticed that more land on both sides of the road was busy with refugee tents and children running around.
Tourki and his family live here. They arrived from Syria two months ago, after Tourki’s father had an accident, falling off the roof where he would sit watching the shelling and explosions. He is still depressed. Tourki is the breadwinner for the whole family: five younger brothers and sisters and his mother and father. He is 10 years old.
When I met him, Tourki was standing next to an old carriage piled with scrap metal he has been gathering from nearby streets. He was sorting out which pieces he could sell.
“I work every day from 7am until 1pm, gathering scrap metal here and there,” Tourki told me. “Then I try to sell the pieces to adults, who scare me sometimes because they beat me”. He makes around 15,000 Lebanese Pounds (approx £6.50) a day. “Life is not nice here,” he said. “I am sad because my father cannot work, but we need money and I have to bring food for my family.”
A small boy, Tourki has responsibilities that would daunt a grown man. His worried look is that of an adult, not a child. After his working day, he finally gets to go home to his tent and play marbles with his friends and cousins. This was the only time I saw him smile.
His sisters and brothers were very shy and clung to their mother as if they were scared to leave her. None of them has been to school for the past two years.
Most Syrian children I meet are excited to go back to school, make new friends and study for a better future, but not Tourki. “I don’t like to go to school,” he told me. “Schools were shelled in Syria. They weren’t safe for us.” If the school were safe, though, he would be prepared to return – except that he has to work. “I don’t want to go back to school,” he said, “but I do hope we can return to Syria, to our home.”
In the meantime, Save the Children are providing help with shelter, education and child protection – necessities now and for the foreseeable future because as Tourki says, with the wisdom of the maturity that’s being forced on him too soon: “From what I see, it will be a long time before that can happen.”