The United Nations has identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance since 2011. Over half are displaced within Syria, while 4.8 million are refugees outside of Syria. Of all countries offering assistance, Turkey is offering the most by hosting over 2.7 million refugees. Countries throughout Europe and the Middle East are overwhelmed by applications from people seeking asylum.
Although it's easy to get wrapped up in numbers, there have been many young faces to bring humanity to the crisis. Who can forget the image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a Turkish beach as his family attempted to cross the sea to Europe? Or seven-year-old Bana Alabed, whose mother has been tweeting her daughter's desperate messages from Aleppo as the city continues to be bombarded?
Women and children - especially girls - suffer disproportionately during wars and conflicts, and we need to read more of their first-hand accounts. Nour, a Syrian teen now living in Turkey, shared a remarkable series of stories with Advice Project Media about the realities many teen girls are facing both in Turkey and Syria. To create these stories, Nour conducted interviews with teens living in Basmane, a neighborhood in Izmir, Turkey that houses many Syrian refugees. She also interviewed a small number of teens who remain in Syria. The stories aren't easy to read - some of them involve child marriage, rape, and loss of life. Each of them, however, is imbued with hope. Nour wrote the stories down in Arabic, added her own commentary, and her work was then translated by Aysha, a refugee who volunteers in Basmane with an organization called Refugee Volunteers of Izmar ("ReVi"). Rough edits were handled by Zachar Hopkins, another ReVi volunteer. Finally, Advice Project Media meticulously went over Nour's original Arabic stories and commentary, compared them with the translations and edits, and made final edits when needed.
Now more than ever, the media has a responsibility to share, rather than tell, the stories of people who have been marginalized or forgotten. Advice Project Media is thankful to Nour for painstakingly recording the stories of teens in her community. She's a citizen journalist filled with integrity and honesty, although we'd be remiss if we didn't add that she's also a dance teacher and humanitarian. Zachar adds: "She is only a teenager, but often works with younger children, giving them energy and happiness in these dire times."
Please note that the Advice Project will not publish last names or photographs of the teens in order to keep them safe. Some given names have also been changed at the request of teens who have been interviewed (these changes have been noted). The Syrian government, Daesh, the FSA, and other organizations, are obsessed with compiling information about anyone who speaks about the war in Syria. Families can be punished, and futures can be ruined by a simple photo of someone who has escaped the war.
We're honored to share these stories with you in this three-part series.
I first interviewed a Syrian girl who lives in Izmir. She asked me not to use her name, so I will call her "Rama." Rama told me about her life and early marriage. ~Nour
I grew up in Aleppo, Syria. As a young girl, I was always happy. Even the simplest things made me happy. My teacher and my friends were the most beautiful things in my life. Then, the war started, and I moved with my family to Turkey. My mother, my sister, my little brother, and I, all moved. My father had died of a heart attack a long time ago.
I was 15-years-old when I arrived in Turkey. My mother immediately decided that I should marry. She soon got me engaged to a young man. I wasn't happy with the engagement, but my mother approved, and nobody else seemed to care. After the engagement, my mother began to teach me how to be an adult. Everyday, she taught me how to talk and how to deal with things in an adult manner. She would tell me, "You shouldn't behave like a kid anymore. You will get married soon.'
I was confused. I didn't know whether I was happy about getting married, or if I dreaded it. I couldn't tell if my mom was happy or comfortable with the situation either. Everything was unknown. I felt on edge whenever my fiance said he wanted to visit me, but I didn't know why.
When we got married, my white dress was so big because I was still quite young and little. It must have looked funny. I was like a cute little kid; happy with her pretty clothes and hair.
After the marriage, some time passed, and I was told something about how I wasn't able to give birth. I cried a lot. Those words hurt so much.
Now, I'm 18. I've grown up a lot, but only inside the walls of this house. I don't go outside. I don't do anything by myself. I wish I could go back in time. I wish I could've stopped the marriage. But everything in this world is destiny. I hope every girl fights for her goals - for her ambitions.
I met the second girl a while ago. She also lives in Turkey, and asked me not to say her name. I will call her, "Mona." This story begins when she was about 16. ~Nour
When I was 16, I lived in Damascus, Syria. I studied like every girl, but there were times when I wasn't interested in school. So, my cousin started tutoring me. Whenever he tutored me, he had a way of making me feel smarter.
One day, my lesson started as usual. Then I looked at him, and told him that I loved him. He confessed that he loved me as well. I felt a strange happiness. I was so happy. Some point later he asked me the "big question." Without hesitation, I said, "Yes. Absolutely." Everybody approved, and we got married.
I was the happiest girl in the world. I felt like a queen - like the queen of the world. In time, I got pregnant. As the baby grew inside me I felt more and more beautiful.
Then the war started. My husband was conscripted into military service. He tried to postpone his conscription, but he was denied, and was ultimately conscripted. When he left, he promised me he'd come back. I visited him many times at the military base. I missed him so much.
In my last visit to him, he acted strangely. He told me, "Be careful. Take care of yourself. Take care of the baby inside of you." It was unsettling. Soon after that, we lost communication. Our line had been severed.
I didn't know what to do. I invited my husband's brother over to our house, on the pretext of feeling weary from the pregnancy. After a long talk with him, he told me with tears in his eyes, 'Your husband and his friends have been killed by a shell.'
I fainted. When I woke up, I was told that I lost my baby. Two pieces of my soul were lost at once. I love them. My darlings. I hope nobody goes through what I did. It was difficult.
Now I'm in Turkey. I work here. I live a simple life. But sometimes I'm pulled into the past. I always remember. It is written. It is destiny.
The third story is about a teenage girl who is still in Syria. I was able to do this interview through text message. She asked me to write her story under the pseudonym, "Bayan." ~Nour
This part of my life has affected me so much, and I'm telling it in the hope that it will help other girls.
There are five people in my family: my father, my mother, my brother, my little sister, and me. Our house was huge. We had both a chauffeur and a maid living with us. My father worked a lot, so we didn't see him much. My mother was busy with her own things. My brother was always with his friends. If we needed anything, we would ask the maid. If we needed to go anywhere, we would ask the chauffeur.
This is how I grew up. One day, when I was in my second year of high school, I stayed home to study. My mother and my little sister went out somewhere. My brother was also out with his friends, and my dad was busy working, as usual.
At around 9:00pm I got hungry so I looked for the maid. She wasn't there, so I called the chauffeur and I told him I wanted pizza from outside. He agreed to get one for me. After half an hour, he called me, telling me that the kitchen door was locked. I told him to put it in front of the door, and I would go down to pick it up later.
After some time passed, I went downstairs to grab the pizza. When I opened the door to the kitchen, I was attacked. It was the chauffeur. The same man who lived with us. The same man we trusted.
He put something in my mouth to gag me. I tried to protect myself, but he was so strong. I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I was in the hospital. Apparently, I had been saved by a family friend who lived close by. When I realized I was in the hospital, I started crying. Afterwards, I entered a period of depression.
When I got better, I berated my family about their old mistakes. My father: always busy. My mother: always away doing her own things. My brother: always out. If we had been a closer family, it wouldn't have happened to me. Over time, we were able to find solutions to the problems that split us apart. We became a more interconnected family. The attack taught us a valuable lesson.