BEIRUT: “We no longer feel human, we are robots with numbers, and no names,” a sentence written on a drawing by the artist Mohamad Kraytem. Standing next to the piece of art and poem was 11-year-old Shokri Askar, one of the children participating in “Haneen” exhibition.
The exhibition that was launched on 21 February by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) at “Beit Beirut,” underlines how children experience war.
When asked about what he likes to be known for, instead of being a number, Askar tells Annahar: “I have an identity, a name. I like to be called Shokri,” adding “I don’t know why many people make us feel like numbers though.”
The young boy, also a football lover, has been in Lebanon for 10 years. One of his biggest dreams is being able to travel. “Doing so will allow me to undergo a surgery for my eyes,” he says. When talking about the severe infection in the cornea, Askar mentions that he has visited many doctors who told him that he might lose his sight if he did not get the right treatment.
By looking at the exhibition’s paintings, illustrations, sculptures and sound installations by Lebanese and Syrian artists – many of whom have lived through war – and the 39 poems composed by Syrian refugee children, one can feel the harshness of war and its brutal effects that haunt them wherever they go.
As UNICEF mention in their statement on the event, “War impacts childhood the same way all over the world.”
Syrian children, who wrote the poems inspired by their own experiences in and outside Syria, are members of the press club run by the NGO Beyond.
Speaking of how this exhibition might benefit children participating in it, the Representative of UNICEF Lebanon Tanya Chapuisat told Annahar that just the fact of children expressing themselves publicly, instead of having their poems read in their tent or home, is very important.
“What is even more important is the feedback people are having when seeing the artworks and poems, especially with the kids who wrote them being present,” she says.
In the same geographical area, many people have personal ID cards, yet Shokri has a United Nations card number 3212576,” which represents the reality behind his poem, where he says “16 my tent number, 26 my camp number, 5 my appointment number.”
The only numbers the child has seen when he was in Syria were in math textbooks, he mentions in his poem that it was “A subject I used to love, but now I hate it.”
Numbers are suffocating him, he says, after he watched his mother, father, brother, sister and himself become a number.
“And we count the days numbly, just numbers rolling by,” he writes.
The only number he is waiting for is the day he will return to Syria, “to our country, then I will erase these numbers and carry my identity, Syria’s identity,” he writes in his poem entitled “Numbers.”
Ali Harba, a 10-year-old Syrian refugee, lost his father during the Syrian war.
His poem “My father’s Abuse” narrates how he wishes that his father was still alive, although he was abusive. “I wish my father hadn’t been killed in the war, even though he used to harm us,” Harba writes and ends his poem with “That is my wish, just so I can call him “father” again!”
Maria Assi, CEO of “Beyond Association” says that the children have been writing the poems since 2016.
“The idea first came when the children were attending psycho-social support classes at Beyond Association’s shelter centers,” she says, adding that “children hated expressing themselves with words at first.”
Many children in Syria and around the world are living “the game of running away from death,” as 13-year-old Fadi al-Ahmad’s poem reads.
However, “life is stronger than pain,” 13-year-old Hussein Al Ibrahim says in his poem ending with “I wish safety to every child on earth.”
Children’s poems did not only focus on expressing their feelings about being in Syria during the war, but about the harsh situations they are going through in Lebanon as well. 10-year-old Fatima Al Tamer from Idlib writes that she was never cold in Syria, “never scared of winter sounds.”
The little girl who used to love wintertime no longer does. “Last winter, children died of cold. This winter, I am afraid it will be my turn to go, or one of my siblings and friends,” she writes.
At least 12 Syrians, including two children, lost their lives to the bitter cold in eastern Lebanon as they tried to enter the country, the UNICEF reported on January 19.
Geert Cappelaere, the UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement following the tragedy that UNICEF has been distributing blankets, warm clothes, and fuel to keep schools warm and to help families cope with the harsh winter in Syria and other countries in the region.
However, funding constraints are challenging its ability to continue the assistance, UNICEF’s statement added.
So far, UNICEF has received only half of the funding needed for winter response, and if urgent funding is not received, it will not be able to reach nearly 800,000 children with winter assistance, said the UN agency.
But UNICEF is still determined to save these children; “We have no excuse. We cannot continue failing children,” Cappelaere says.
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