Helping the children of Syria heal

10 years after the start of the Syria crisis, the international community still has a role to play in understanding how the conflict has harmed children while remembering that all hope is not lost, and that education can help.

March 30, 2021 by Alexander Tucciarone, International Rescue Committee
3 minutes read
A 10-year-old child works on her schoolwork at home with family in Idlib, Syria. Credit: Khaled Idlbe / IRC
A 10-year-old child works on her schoolwork at home with family in Idlib, Syria.
Credit: Khaled Idlbe / IRC

Syrian children who are reaching their 10th birthday this year do so along another ten-year milestone — that of the Syrian War. These children have spent the most formative years of their lives knowing nothing but war, violence and displacement.

Five million children are among the estimated 12.3 million people displaced by the Syrian conflict. This group of displaced children is larger than the entire populations of 27 US states and countries like Ireland, Panama or New Zealand.

These figures help contextualize the vast scope of this crisis without delving into its toll. But as our new brief highlights, this crisis is uniquely harmful to children.

Childhood is a pivotal period in every person’s development. Research shows that when children experience prolonged, severe trauma such as in conflict settings, it can disrupt healthy development and impact them for years to come.

This decade of conflict coinciding with such a formative stage in their lives has already caused profound damage to the psychological wellbeing of these millions of children.

The heavy toll of protracted conflict on children

Though the Syrian conflict has been violent throughout, there was a surge of violence in the northwest of Syria in late 2019 and early 2020.

As our brief highlights, a survey of caregivers in that region confirmed the devastating impacts this trauma had on children. For example, nearly two in three caregivers surveyed reported their children routinely started crying for no clear reason. Almost half of these children displayed extraordinary sadness and lack of interest in play or basic conversation.

The global community must bear witness to these truths. At the same time, the world should not forget that children are resilient and that there are evidence-based approaches, many of them related to education, that can help these children and their families heal.

The international community has a role to play in understanding the ways the Syrian conflict has harmed children while remembering that all hope is not lost. The world can respond to this tragedy by committing itself to the work that we already know can make a difference.

Education can help children heal

These children have had their early years stolen by a war and now a pandemic. But education and quality early childhood development services can help them heal.

Programs like the Ahlan Simsim partnership between Sesame Workshop and the IRC and remedial tutoring programs that include social-emotional learning in Lebanon have harnessed the power of education and play to reach these children and their families throughout the Syria response region.

Whether by providing children mindfulness activities or sharing tips with caregivers for engaging children with educational play via WhatsApp, YouTube and television, the humanitarian community can ensure that disruption does not have to mean destruction.

These children will bounce back if they and their families are given the tools they need to do just that, including multiyear funding to ensure they receive services to promote their learning and healthy development.

The challenge before the world is daunting but it is not insurmountable. Working together and committing to truly impactful and responsive education programs, the humanitarian community and global funders can ensure that the millions of children who have grown up in the shadow of the Syrian conflict grow up to become healthy and thriving adults.

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Middle East and North Africa: Syria

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