How on Earth are any of us supposed to remember what we were doing six years ago? I can barely remember what I wore yesterday.
Let’s see, I’d just moved to Auckland from Christchurch. I was paying rent for a house in Sandringham that you could probably have picked up for a bargain-basement $550,000.
I wasn’t yet married, and didn’t have a kid, so my crow’s-feet and baggy-eyes were much less severe.
Truth be told, I only remember bits and pieces. Snippets. Everything has faded into a misty approximation of memory — a vague blur of nothingness.
Christchurch had just experienced its terrible earthquake.
John Key was a fresh-faced PM, two years into his first term.
Some company called Tesla was creating a bit of buzz with a newfangled electric car.
And at the same time, a conflict started in Syria.
Born out of the protests and unrest of the Arab Spring, rebel groups soon sprung up in defiance of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Civil uprising grew into civil war.
Six years later, it’s still going.
Longer than the Great War.
Longer than World War Two.
It is the most deadly and complex conflict of our time.
You could be forgiven for thinking it was over. There’s been much talk of ceasefires, and retaken cities. ISIS pushed out of one area. Syrian Rebels losing another. But Syria’s a big country, with many groups involved, and the ceasefires have proved shaky.
In six bloody years, more than 11 million people have fled their homes.
Somewhere in the region of 400–500,000 people have been killed.
And roughly six million children are in desperate need of assistance.
It is the children we’re most concerned about.
People who have lived through terrible experiences sometimes develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Perhaps soldiers, or abuse victims. But the experiences of children in Syria have sometimes left scars so much worse than what PTSD describes, that authorities have invented a new term for what they’ve experienced — “Human Devastation Syndrome.”
Human devastation. The images conjured by those words alone are horrific.
UNICEF is the children’s charity. Our entire existence is to ensure a better and fairer future for children. In Syria, UNICEF is desperately trying to make things right.
The road ahead will be long, and fraught with difficulty, but we will stand alongside those children walking it.
Education and recreation aren’t sexy, but after a conflict such as this they are utterly vital in helping children return to something resembling normal lives. UNICEF helps with medical attention, trauma counselling, and rebuilding infrastructure. We are supplying water to more than 14 million people, providing support to more than 3 million children in school, reuniting families, and providing medical assistance for mothers and children. There is so much more needed.
UNICEF NZ’s Executive Director, Viv Maidaborn, tells a story of a five-year-old Syrian girl she met in Lebanon in 2015. The girl’s father had been killed. Her mother had disappeared. She’d stopped speaking. What she had experienced had left her a hollow shell of a child, damaged and broken far beyond her years. How many years of therapy will it take to try and reintroduce normality into that little girl’s’ life? Is it even possible?
The help and counselling being provided by UNICEF meant she was slowly — ever-so-slowly — coming out of her shell, learning what it was like to feel again. That little girl is not beyond help, and we will be with her for every step of that journey.
But that little girl is just one of millions.
And it will almost certainly take much more than six years for those terrible, devastating memories of what has happened to her home, her family, and her country, to fade to nothingness.