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For The Children In Syria, Survival Is A “Depraved Luxury”

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By Shinjini Chakraborty:

“After we finished (breakfast), they dropped the barrel on us and the house fell down.”

A freshly released aftermath video of two 10-year-old Syrian kids mourning the death of their friend is unsettling. Hamza and Qayn had lost their friend and mourned right as the camera recorded them for a well-known tabloid. The reporter asks them,

“How do you feel after Hasan’s death?”

Hardly animated and quite impenetrable, the boy replied, “We really don’t feel anything.”

It has been close to 5 years that the West Asian country of Syria has been embroiled in a convoluted mess of sociopolitical and religious turmoil, which has transformed into a turbulent incursion to humanity.

Gross human rights violations, including murders, rapes, abduction, assassinations are reported as I write comfortably numb in my studio apartment far away from the mess that replays on loop in the backdrop of Syria.

For us commoners with safe spatial distance from the crucible of violence, we require occasional images to tweak our disturbance threshold, shuffle a bit in our seats and quip,

“I pray for the children of Syria.”

Aylan Kurdi and Omraan Daqneesh aged 3 and 5 respectively were stark images of the world we live in today. Our lackadaisical attitude in perceiving and comprehending the threat that our race faces, the delay and procrastination resulting from farcical discussions in the United Nations, and the seemingly perpetuating distress that the Syrians face has resulted in a mess with dim solutions at disposal.

Searching more about the going scenario of Syria, I came across two web pages where maps depicted the very areas of Syria under siege, being bombed, averting a suicide bombing, being air-raided by Russia and more. The tab on your right would update you on what is going on by the minute; a demonstration, a crumbling assault on a small town, with civilian casualties or without it.

Going by statistics from the “Save the Children” website, war afflictions on 7.5 million children have been reported, with 2 million children missing out on education. With an average of 100 Syrians fleeing the inferno each hour, the exodus of Syrian population has cumulated up to 50% of the population since 2011.

These refugees are mostly concentrated in Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, with migration trends seen in European countries too that have agreed to accept specified number of migrants.

Living in Germany for the past six months, I have noticed this influx and also the rising concerns of native residents and work permit holders from other countries of how “unsafe” the environment is slowly turning into.

Rehabilitating organisations perform seminal engagement activities to integrate them socially and culturally.

In Ulm, a small initiative namely “Before I die” constantly conducts activities involving Syrian immigrants, through musical shows and cultural events.

But the consciousness and sense of alienation are burgeoning with each passing day.

I wonder how innately the children are affected during this entire conundrum instigated by a huge population of warring adults. Apart from fleeing their homeland, they are compelled to abandon their houses often in the case of bombardment and airstrikes.

Displacement of Syrian people within their own country sums up to 6.5 million with a sporadic blockade in different regions restricting the basic supply of amenities, resulting in undernourishment and lack of medical aid.

What began as a dissent to the Bashar Al-Asad regime turned into a bloodied massacre over the years; a convoluted intersection of social, ethnic and religious clashes, all muddled into one, one bombing the other and turning the country into an expanse of dusty run-downs and howling masses.

All we see are few children here and there, much with the help of photojournalists who happen to come across them, reporting them and letting the world know that they are representative of something ghastly and diabolic happening to the humankind. Yet, in the backdrop of this tumult, one cannot completely ignore the psychological effect on the refugee population; more so, the children.

I was curious to dive deeper into refugee rehabilitation measures taken in the countries who have offered to provide them interim shelter.

Going through an article describing the situation in Lebanon, it doesn’t come as a surprise that children are being driven to suicide as an option of escape.

As Lebanon won’t offer permanent camp establishments, makeshift ones with questionable standards of hygiene are housing refugees.

Syrian women have been forced into prostitution. Refugees have been refused jobs and also, charged exorbitantly to rent a place in the camps.

A 12-year-old consumed rat poison to “relieve” her mother of the burden of fending for 7 children; another little girl tried to slit her wrist when her father attempted to stab her in a fit of rage.

Several NGOs work to support these children to provide them with a safer and healthier haven where the stigma of their descent can be stopped from moulding their psyche.

The story doesn’t end here. Purportedly, the NGOs are finding it difficult to survive with funding cuts from the United Nations. With the UN choosing to involve the Lebanese government more into active rehabilitation associated participation, the alternate political insinuation dissuades NGOs from continuing their base-work with children who require regular attention, education and activities fit for their age, their mind and their nurturing.

The War delves deep into the child’s mind and sculpts indiscriminately leaving a venerating trauma. Undoing this effect involves engaging the children that the NGOs strive to do. Workers and representatives speak of the dismal state of mind that these children arrive in, drawing weapons, bombs and colouring them black when asked to draw on sheets. The uncertainty of having such support, existent lack of a dignified living in these foreign countries and the apt proverb “idle mind is the devil’s workshop” would enact itself in the foremost glory giving rise to a vicious cycle of criminal tendencies.

Next, I came across the most heart-wrenching bit of my research on Syrian children. A project by Magnus Wennman for “Aftonbladet“, a Swedish newspaper gives us the trenchant image of what the world is doing to innocent children.

As series of photographs depicting the conditions in which the children sleep hits one hard. Along the closed borders of Hungary, freezing pavements and forests of Serbia, children as young as 2-year-old sleep with an excruciating listlessness in their eyes. There was the picture of a boy with a blood disease, lying faced sideways on a mucky mattress.

His mother cannot afford to treat him, with long distances to be covered and the lingering nightmare of his sister’s death, the kid lies outside the central station of Belgrade, shrouded in hopelessness and impassivity.

Such horror in innocent eyes would be seldom seen unless witnessed in these few photographs – where a 2 year old born in such circumstances haven’t spoken, where a little girl lies mum with a broken jaw after surviving a severe head trauma, where cardboard and grasses have replaced the comforts of their modest homes back in Syria, where toys have been replaced by shrapnel lodged in their spines and head.

For the children of Syria, we are still largely ignorant of how it has befallen them; and how survival also has turned into a depraved luxury.

I wonder what it would take to stop the war in Syria. A video shows the impact of 5 years, which is also often half or even the entire lifetime for so many children.

Liam Neeson and Mia Farrow requests in yet another attention garnering attempt to appeal to a dissolution of the atrocities prevailing in Syria. They also show two children, a boy of 10 and a girl of 5. The girl moved me to the core of my ethos which is not enough to empathise or actively do anything to save them. That is how weak we are; powerless, weak and futile.

The girl smiled as the video was shot.

“Five years, that’s all my life.”

_

Image source: Getty Images

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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