As parents, Fatima, Habib, and Sara all stressed that their own personal suffering was second to their concerns over their children. “I am always worried for my children that something will happen to them,” Rana* told us in 2019. Her family fled Syria with just the clothes on their backs. “I didn’t put my youngest child in school because there is a water canal next to the school and I am afraid that they could fall in and drown.”
For all the pandemic-prompted conversations in the last year about “going back to normal” and “the new normal,” most Syrians under the age of 18 have grown up with a normalisation of conflict, volatility, poverty, and displacement that will impact them for the rest of their lives.
Samer* was 14 when the conflict started. When we met him just two years later he had already accepted that he had lost one of his basic human rights: his education. “I won’t go back to school,” he told us at 16. “I have lost my will now after missing it for two years.” Even if the conflict had ended earlier on, he reasoned that he would be behind in class and that the education system would take much longer to regain its footing. “For my generation and me, the future is not clear.”
Since then, a new generation of Syrians has been born, reached the age to begin primary school, and has been left to sit on the sidelines. Some, like Layal*, who was 11 when we interviewed her in 2017, were forced to step into parental roles. Despite being a child herself, Layal was the oldest of her siblings and had lost both of her parents. While she was out of school, she worked to ensure that her brothers and sister would have an education while they lived in an informal settlement in Lebanon. Like Samer, she spoke with a voice older than her years, a sign of the trauma of crisis and conflict. “It’s so far away, the future,” she said about her own hopes. “Now, I am 11 years old, and I don’t know what I will do when I am 12 years old.”