Sitting alone in a corner, Malek* looked sad and scared. He could barely lift his head up to face the passing people. His clothes were all ripped. His nails, hands, teeth, and hair were all damaged.There was a finger missing from his right hand.
Malek is a nine-year-old Palestinian boy brought to the SOS Children’s Villages office in Damascus to be registered in the hopes that this would allow him to begin a new, normal life. He is one of myriad “crisis children” who have lost their parents or were separated from their family due to the war, and who have become victims of homelessness.
“I lived in the Al Yarmouk camp, and there was an area where children used to play,” he recalls. “I used to go there every day with my little brother. The last thing I remember about my mother is when she told me not to be late for my favorite cheese pasta dinner.”
He adds: “That day was sunny and beautiful until a mortar fell among us. I couldn’t find my brother anymore. I hid behind a wall and saw black smoke, blood and human remains. It was the first time in my life that I had seen such things. There was a lot of blood all over my clothes. I thought that it was from other people until I lifted my hand to see that my finger was gone and I was bleeding.
“It was terrifying. The last thing I remember about Al Yarmouk is crawling to the square again and searching for my lost finger among the human remains because I just couldn’t believe that it was gone. All I wished for was to find it and keep it with me until I could find a hospital.” He passed out there at the scene of the mortar shelling.
“Ambulances were not allowed to enter the place,” he continues. “They put all the dead bodies and injured people in a pick-up van and took them to the hospital.”
When Malek came to, the first thing he asked about was his mother and brother, but no one knows exactly what happened to them. “I woke up asking myself questions like: where will I sleep? How do I eat? Where do I shower? And most importantly, ‘how do I find my family’?
“I left the hospital and found myself in the street. I could tell that it was not in the Al Yarmouk camp anymore. I was in another district called Al Zahira, far away from my home.”
It was a whole new world for Malek – a world of homelessness caused by war. “There were a lot of children like me there,” he adds. “A lot of them had scars. I wondered where they had got them.” Four years of homelessness have forced Majed to sleep under plastic sheets during the last four winters, to sometimes eat from rubbish containers, and to beg people for money, suffering the humiliation of indifference.
He stopped searching for his family about a year after he was injured, believing that everybody in Al Yarmouk was dead. “It’s impossible to think that they’re alive after four years,” he says. “There have been a lot of massacres, sieges, and armed clashes.” After he stopped searching for his family, Majed decided to search for an orphanage because he couldn’t take the homelessness anymore. Finally, he ended up in one of SOS Children’s Villages temporary child-care centres for children who have become separated from their parents because of the conflict. He wants to go to school, which is impossible while living on the street.
“I am sad when I see children going to school,” he says. “I was supposed to start going to school after the summer of the year I got injured. I’ve never been to a school before and this is what I’m looking forward to be doing now that I with SOS.” He wants to be either a painter or a doctor. He remembers his father saying: “Never give up on your education.”
Malek is one of hundreds of thousands Syrian children whose lives and dreams have been stolen because of the war. As he sits in the bus headed to the temporary child-care centre, Malek says: “I’m tired of my life. I don’t want to think about where to eat or sleep. I want to have some time to think of who I want to be in the future. I want to have time to study, play and paint. I want to make everybody around love me instead of mocking me or shouting in my face. I want to feel that I am loved and appreciated.”
SOS temporary child care centers provide care, education, and psychosocial support to unaccompanied and separated children who have lost one or both parents due to the war or have been forced to be separated from their families.
The Al Saboura temporary Care Center is currently providing support to 94 children, helping them to get back to the normal life they lost due to the war in Syria.
*name changed for privacy reasons