Syrian children wait out the years at this makeshift refugee camp in Lebanon. (All photos by World Vision)
At precisely 11:11 a.m. today, Canadians observe a minute of silence for those who stepped forward to serve during wartime. My grandad, Alan John Wolfe, always feels very close to me. His courage in the Second World War helped give my children freedom.
But this year, Remembrance Day will take on an additional dimension for me. Gone are the days when wars were fought between enemy nations on remote battlefields. Most modern conflicts take place within countries -- not between them. And children are often quite literally caught in the crossfire.
Just try to imagine
I read this week that ISIL has launched an unprecedented wave of suicide bombers in their effort to hang onto Mosul, Iraq, one of the group's last remaining strongholds. Children are among those suicide bombers.
What does it take to convince a small child to throw herself at an advancing army, detonating herself in the process? I don't have the courage to even try to imagine.
Some of the children who have escaped Mosul are too terrified even to speak. More than two years under ISIL occupation, followed by the intense dangers of fleeing for safety, have taken a major toll on children's physical and emotional health.
"Many children have been stuck in their homes while bombings, sniper fire or chaos rules all around them," said Aaron Moore, World Vision's programs manager in Northern Iraq. "Others have witnessed the death of family members."
Just think about what that means. Imagine that it's your child who has done the witnessing. And consider that the person they saw being murdered -- often within a few feet of them -- might be you. How do we even begin to help that child heal?
Freed from the demons
When my son Derrick was five, we were stuck in a subway train for more than an hour as firefighters battled a blaze at the next station. We never saw the fire and were never in any real danger. But the PA announcements were loud, frequent and jarring. The adults jammed up against us were increasingly anxious.
After an hour, my little son lost it. His impatience turned to panic. Derrick began shrieking wildly and hitting his head with his fists. After we surfaced, he couldn't go back underground for months, not even in a shopping mall. Only several sessions with a child psychologist helped him face his fear.
It's not remotely the same thing as the children in Mosul -- except in this: being with Derrick and the counselor, I could see how his little spirit wanted to be whole again. He didn't want to live afraid any more. And with enough love and help, he somehow found a way to be free.
Be waiting at the end
What awaits child survivors of war, when they finally reach safety? Millions of children fleeing Syria have reached camps in places like Jordan and Lebanon, millions more remain displaced within both Syria and Iraq. There, they are often handed a whole new set of burdens to carry, including years of grinding poverty.
These camps are where Canadians can meet child survivors of war. You likely won't go there physically. But you can provide help for these children, even from the safety of Canada. You can give these children who've lost so much things like clean water to drink, nourishing meals, or a warm, safe place to sleep.
You can also help provide people to care for child survivors including trained Child Protection staff. These gentle healers begin by encouraging children to draw pictures of what they've been through. It's sometimes easier to tackle your nightmares with crayons in hand.
As children begin to open up about what they've experienced, our trained staff are there to listen.
Some child survivors from Mosul have reportedly used a lot of black and red in their pictures. Many have drawn war scenes, including tanks and war planes. At last, someone is witnessing even the smallest bit of their pain.
Of course, it's not enough to simply witness children's pain, or even provide them with comfort. Children must not experience war in the first place -- and Canada must help give them peace. Organizations like World Vision continue to campaign for a solution to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, for instance, and in other places like South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
A child who escaped Mosul has drawn what appears to be a falling bomb, and a person bleeding on the ground. Not from imagination, but from experience.
The children of war will never forget what they've been through. When that minute of silence has ended this Remembrance Day, please keep the world's child survivors in front of you. Then reach out to help them.
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