Andreas Papp, Director of Emergency Response for SOS Children’s Villages, recently returned from Syria, a country locked in a brutal civil war that has left millions of children and families in dire need of food, drinkable water and medical supplies.
Papp visited the cities of Aleppo and Damascus, where he met with children and families supported by SOS Children's Villages. In the interview below, Papp discusses the impact the six-year Syrian civil war has had on children.
How would you describe the condition of the children you met?
Children look at you with empty and sad eyes. When you ask them what they want or need, they tell you they want footballs, things to play with, and clothing. The mothers say they only have winter clothes and will need clothing for the coming summer months. Shoes are urgently needed for many of the children. They need schools so they can learn but also so that parents can concentrate during the day on income-generating activities.
What are the urgent needs of children?
The children have suffered enormously as a result of the fighting. A lot of them could not leave their homes – they were trapped. And when they did manage to get out, some of them saw for the first time the destruction – not just in their street, but in the community where they lived.
Many of the children who have been brought to us share some of the most shocking stories. Children have seen their parents killed, or, when the fighting ended in their community, have found the bodies of their parents.
Lack of access to medical care is also a problem. Many of the doctors and nurses left because of the fighting and have not returned. There is a lack of qualified staff, including pediatricians and gynecologists. In one of the main shelters outside of Aleppo, SOS Children’s Villages is providing access to doctors and nurses to assist women and children.
What were the conditions like during your time in Aleppo?
In the eastern parts there is nothing – there is no electricity and no running water. We are providing 16 water tanks to provide drinkable water to those still living there. I visited one of these distribution points and spoke to a man who said that it is not enough. He urged us to go to the other parts of the town where there is a greater need for more water.
In the east of Aleppo, you don’t see that many people. You see some people who come back to see what still remains of their houses. Some of them are trying to go back to stop people from looting their homes. But there is not one single house in the eastern part that is intact. People are moving back, but many of the houses are uninhabitable. There is also still the fear of unexploded bombs.
There were many reports during the long siege of Aleppo last year about the destruction of schools and hospitals. From what you could see, what is the state of schools and hospitals?
They are all destroyed. I visited a school, one I hope we can renovate, that was damaged. We are looking at the possibility of renovating or rebuilding several of the 12 damaged or destroyed schools that have been identified for immediate repair or reconstruction.
I will never forget when we were traveling through the mostly deserted eastern part of Aleppo. We soon came close to the western part where we saw small shops and people on the streets. We were driving down a street when all of a sudden we heard children screaming. A school had just ended classes and all of a sudden the children were pouring into the street. The street was full of children doing the things they usually do like running and playing. In this nearly dead city, life was back.
This is where we need to head. We will lose another generation if we don’t provide education to children now. We need to provide support for what they have been through, to help them get over the trauma that could otherwise have an impact on their lives for a very long time.
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Now in its its seventh year, the Syrian Civil War has left millions of children displaced from their homes, caught in the line of fire and trapped in poverty