Refugees from Syria, Myanmar, and South Sudan each shared their experiences of the devastating impact that conflict has had on their lives, but crucially how they managed to find hope even in the darkest of times.
Over 450 million children now live in areas affected by conflict across the world, roughly 1 in 6 children, according to the latest statistics. Many have known nothing but war, which has had a devastating impact on both their physical and mental health.
In Save the Children’s latest needs assessment of families in Ukraine, 85% of the respondents,1 said they needed psychosocial support. The report also revealed heartbreaking accounts of children unable to sleep, being constantly afraid, crying and not wanting to leave bomb shelters.
Two-thirds of the 7.5 million children in Ukraine have been forced from their homes since the war escalated on 24 February.
Globally the charity estimates 224 million children living in high intensity conflict could be experiencing significant distress and mental health disorders. Despite this, child protection in emergencies, education in emergencies and Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) are critically underfunded.
Each of the children shared how they coped with their experiences such as support from close family, sport and support from organisations like Save the Children:
Ghaith*, 18, Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan.
Ghaith* and his family fled Syria at the height of the brutal war in 2013. He witnessed things no child ever should, such as shelling, and his uncle and four cousins being murdered. He is now part of Save the Children and The Arsenal Foundation’s “Coaching for Life” programme in Zaatari refugee camp, where bespoke football coaching sessions help him to process his emotions and improve his mental wellbeing.
“What helped me the most was having my family close to me, and someone older than me to guide me.
“We should provide them (refugees from Ukraine) with help, such as Save the Children, that changes the lives of children, and promises children better days in the future.
“They need support, and education and to have better prospects, like playing sports, and whatever they need to forget about their past and to hope for a better future.”
Fatima*, 14, Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh
Fatima* was forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh when she was nine years old after her home was burnt to the ground when her village was attacked. She was given psychosocial support to help her recover from the horrors she had witnessed. For over a year she struggled to cope. She is now in school living in the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar.
“Do not be afraid, believe in yourself. I have been through this; I can feel what is going through you. Everything will be fine and one day you will be back to your home like you used to be. We should keep hope alive and try to be positive.
“Children should be kept away from things which remind them of the sorrow and horrors of conflict. The sound of (loud bangs) like gun shots affect children the most who have been in war.”
Daniel*, 16, Northern Uganda
Five years ago, at the age of 11, Daniel* was forced to flee his home in South Sudan due to conflict.
Speaking of what he witnessed, Daniel* said, “Sometimes I break down and cry. You cry from within because of the things that have happened. I have been through it. I also ran away like you and I have made it through.
“I advise the children from Ukraine to forget about all the challenges they have faced… playing football, netball, and drawing or painting helps me forget about the past.”
Pete Walsh, Save the Children’s Ukraine Country Director, said:
“These stories are a powerful reminder of the devastating impact conflict has on children’s lives, not just in Ukraine but across the world. Each one has been shared in solidarity to give children in Ukraine hope, from those who have lived through the horrors of war themselves.
“Hundreds of millions are living in conflict across the world, robbing them of the childhood they deserve. All children should be given the right support to recover from the pain of what they have witnessed during war.”
Save the Children staff and partners working in Ukraine and neighbouring countries are seeing the psychological and emotional impacts of war on the children they are meeting with children arriving at reception centres showing worrying signs of severe distress.
Save the Children has been operating in Ukraine since 2014, delivering essential humanitarian aid to children and their families. With the help of local partners, Save the Children is providing shelter, food, cash, fuel, psychosocial support, baby, and hygiene kits to displaced families.
Save the Children has also set up safe spaces for children where they can play as well as emergency distribution tents at border crossings, transportation hubs, and reception centres in Romania, Poland, and Lithuania. Save the Children is also helping to provide child friendly space, emergency accommodation, psychological first aid, support for parents and reception centres in about 10 other European countries.
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*Names have been changed to protect their identities.