World Vision Ambassador Melissa Doyle with 15-year-old Hind in Lebanon. Hind fled the violence in Syria and now lives in a tented settlement with her family.
This is 15-year-old Hind. A beautiful, intelligent, proud young woman I met in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon last year. Her plight touched me deeply. So much so, that I want to share her story with you.
Hind’s father owned a supermarket in Homs, what was once a pretty city in western Syria with a population of just over a million people. She lived in a three-storey house and tells me with pride that their home and rose garden were rather famous in her neighbourhood. Hind had her own bedroom, a closet full of clothes, and five best friends who lived nearby. She loved to paint and read, and her dream was to finish school and maybe become a teacher herself.
Many of us have a preconceived idea of who a refugee is. We have seen images of Somalis walking through the deserts of Africa or Afghanis packed onto rusty boats.
The reason Hind had such an impact on me is that her family could have been mine.
Nearly two years ago, as the civil war intensified and her city was being bombed, a terrified Hind, her parents and unmarried siblings made the decision to flee. They made their way across the border into eastern Lebanon. They now live in a UNHCR tent pitched in the rubble of a building site in the Bekaa Valley. It is lined internally with cardboard and draped with a white tarpaulin in an attempt to keep the winter snow off.
Inside it is immaculate. Shelves sit in one corner with an elaborate tea set. There is a small television in another and soft mats on the floor. But that is all. It is here the family lives, eats and sleeps. Hind’s mother serves me strong thick Turkish coffee while apologising for her home. She tells me she never dreamt her daughters would walk on dirt, let alone live like this.
Hind is stoic and sweet. Her greatest sadness is the two years of schooling she has missed. Syrian refugees were initially allowed to attend Lebanese schools, but the government changed that when the influx of Syrian children started placing too much pressure on the school system. Overcrowding, transport problems and resentment were creating some major issues.
Hind is clearly educated and intelligent. She wants to attend evening remedial classes to bring her education up to date before it is too late.
More than 2.5 million Syrians have fled the war… that is slightly more than the population of Brisbane. And half of them are children.
These children have seen their fathers tortured and killed. They have seen their homes blown up, dead bodies lying in the streets. They have witnessed such violence that they are deeply distressed and their mothers struggle to manage them. Stressed fathers take their anger out on their families.
There is a whole generation of children growing up terrified, displaced and uneducated. Those living in refugee camps play war games and act out the violence they have witnessed. The counselling that will be required is overwhelming.
Saturday March 15 marks three years since this war began.
The world is responding with humanitarian aid and the UN Security Council is demanding rapid and unhindered access to get this aid to the 9.3 million people in need still living inside war torn Syria.
The number of refugees is expected to be three million by the end of this year. Up to 30 percent of the refugees are living in established camps, the rest are making do wherever they can find a place to call home. But they struggle to survive. In Jordan it is illegal for a refugee to work.
The strain is being felt on neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, on infrastructure, schools and health facilities. A recent survey found 76 percent of Jordanians wanted the Syrians to go home.
It seems that won’t be any time soon with the latest round of talks in Geneva once again failing.
But what I hope doesn’t collapse is the spirit of the young people like Hind.
She drew me this picture:
It’s a rose dripping blood into a cup and dying, and beside it a rose in full bloom and very much alive. She held my hand and told me she was the one on the right.
World Vision is working in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon to support families affected by the ongoing conflict. Learn more about our Syrian Refugee Crisis Appeal and how you can help.