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A Tale of Two Syrian Moms

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Do you remember the moment that changed your life changed forever? Perhaps it was saying "I do" to your partner, or hearing you'd landed an amazing new job. In Syria these days, life-changing events are less like dreams-come-true and more like nightmares. Mike Bailey reports, for World Vision.

Muna recalls the day that changed her life forever.

"There was a sound like a plane, and then the house shook," she says. Realizing that her Syrian village was under rocket attack, Muna rushed her five children into the stairwell to get them down from the roof where they'd been.

Suddenly, one of her children asked where the baby was. Muna realized that in her panic, she had left her youngest daughter behind. She rushed back to the roof for the little one. She noticed that one of her other daughters had hit her head and was bleeding heavily.

Reduced to rubble

By the time the family got outside to the street, there were more rockets hitting buildings. Everyone was shouting so loudly that no one could hear themselves. The men got buses from somewhere, and helped move about 500 people to a neighbouring village. Three days later, the place these families had called home was nothing more than rubble.

That was nine months ago. Although Muna and her five children are now relatively safe as refugees with her uncle in neighbouring Jordan, the violent effects of the Syrian conflict continue to reach her. Four days ago, news came that her brother had been killed. A few months ago, her husband, who stayed behind in Syria, was hurt. He now has to use his left hand to do everything.

It's like a nightmare from which the family can't wake up.

Rama's moment

Rama was tidying the bedroom when her house was hit from above. Her children were playing in another room. Rama says her only thought was her children. She shouted for them, and got them downstairs into a metal doorway where they would be safer if the house collapsed. Mothers in Syria know these things.

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Rama (centre) spends her nights comforting her four boys, who alternate between tears and nightmares.

Missiles or bombs were landing in the street outside. It was three long hours before men came to lead their family and others to safety. Then began longest night of Rama's life. Desperate to get out of Syria, the family managed to get a one-hour car ride in the direction of the border. They had to walk the rest of the way.

For three hours, the mother and children stumbled along a stony track in the dark. They fell, over and over again. Twelve-year-old Sahel kept vomiting. By the time they reached the border, the family was exhausted.

Haunted by nightmares

They crossed into Jordan and were transferred to the Za'atari refugee camp where they stayed for a day and-a-half before Rana's brother came to fetch them. He took them to live with his family in Ma'an, a desert town in southeast Jordan. He had been working there since before the beginning of the civil war in Syria. His wife and children had already fled the fighting to join him.

Now Rama, who has just arrived, is trying hard to calm her children. It's not easy. She is particularly worried about 12-year-old Sahel, the one who was so sick on the road out of Syria. He has a heart problem, and is shaken by loud noises. You can imagine what life in Syria has been like for him recently.

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Thousands of Syrian families have fled to this town, Ma'an, in the neighboring country of Jordan. Others have gone to Lebanon.

Eight-year-old Thaer has recurrent nightmares, images no child should have to deal with. He describes a particular dream where men in police uniforms trying to kidnap his baby brother. Big brother Sahel manages to saves the baby. But as Thaer himself runs to escape, he's hit in the back by a bullet. Rama comforts her shaking child, telling him "It's only a dream."

Too close to reality

But the boys' dreams are too close to reality for Rama to banish entirely. They wake often in the night, sometimes three or four times.

When one boy cries, the others follow. They are frightened that the bombs will fall in the Jordanian town where they're staying. They are scared because their father is not with them. When they think of him,
they cry again.

They ask for their father constantly, says Rama. She tries to reassure her boys their dad will come tomorrow, but it seems unlikely.

Childhoods interrupted

It is too soon for the two oldest brothers to enroll in school in Jordan. The family is still just getting its bearings. When the boys do go to school, they will have a lot of catching up to do. Back in Syria, they had not attended for two years because of the fear that one of them would be kidnapped. Sahel heard this happened to another boy.

For these refugee families, the escape into exile trades danger for uncertainty. Everything that makes life stable for a child -- home, possessions, routines, community -- is left behind. In this case, a parent is missing too.

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Rama's oldest boy, Sahel, already had a heart condition before the trauma of having his home hit from above by a missile.

The boys hold their mother tight. They all seem to be in shock, barely getting through each day. It seems they're relying almost solely on their mother's strength. It is all that they have.

Learn more here.

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