‘I want to live like a child. I’m very afraid'
Seven-year-old Bana Alabed is trapped by Syria’s horrifying civil war. Now her eye-opening tweets have gained international attention. Will they help to improve the situation in Aleppo?
‘I’m reading to forget the war.’ ‘I am very afraid I will die tonight.’ ‘Hope is past.’
Bana Alabed, who wrote those words, is a seven-year-old Syrian. She dreams of becoming a teacher, but has not been to school since last year. She lives in the rebel-held part of Syria’s second city, Aleppo. For three months, amid intense fighting, her house has been besieged daily by her government and Russian planes.
Her family has faced shortages of food and fuel. Her three-year-old brother has fallen ill with jaundice. And her friend in a neighbouring house has died in the bombing.
On September 24th, Bana decided to tell her story on Twitter. ‘Bana asked me: why is the world not hearing us? Why is nobody helping us?’ explained her mother.
Bana has documented childish activities such as drawing with her brothers and repeatedly pleaded for the bombing to stop. She has gained over 9,000 followers and international press coverage. Some have called her ‘Aleppo’s Anne Frank’.
Some of the most memorable stories from Syria’s civil war have involved children. Photographs of drowned three-year-old refugee Alan Kurdi and Omran Daqneesh, covered in dust and blood in an Aleppo ambulance, have gone viral.
Their innocence contrasts with a horrifying reality. Dozens of rebel groups are fighting both the government and, in many cases, each other. Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, has killed tens of thousands — and he has intensifying support from Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
The impact of this is particularly shocking in Aleppo. Putin and Assad have reportedly targeted hospitals and there are just 35 doctors left. Some estimates suggest 250,000 people — including 100,000 children — are trapped there. Unicef’s Hanaa Singer says the situation is now ‘the worst we have seen for children’.
Bana’s account damns those involved and raises awkward questions for international politicians. Some stand accused of doing too little to intervene or to help refugees. Could the tweets of a seven-year-old make the difference?
A child’s wish
Yes, say some. Her story reminds us that this is not an abstract problem: human beings are being killed in large numbers. The innocence of a child is a powerful tool for grabbing attention and changing minds. Perhaps Bana’s heart-rending account is not just able to make a difference, but the only way to make one.
Naive optimism, others respond. We already knew this war was horrible. One story will hardly stop the murderous Assad, the ruthless Putin or even the fanatics among their enemies. Further afield, those who want to will continue to turn a blind eye. Horrifying images from Aleppo have become common, and little has changed — this will be no different.
- Have Bana Alabed’s tweets had an impact on you?
- Will her account make any difference to the situation in Aleppo?
- Read Bana’s tweets (see the first link under Become An Expert). Choose three tweets which you would show to a friend. Explain why you chose each one.
- Think of four things which global policy makers could do to help Bana. Write half a page for each step, explaining the potential advantages and disadvantages of it and how likely it is to happen.
Some People Say...
“Children make the best witnesses.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- This is very sad. But isn’t it very far away?
- Bana’s appalling situation could have affected any of us with a bit of bad luck. But it also has an impact on countries further afield. Politicians who represent you are increasingly considering how to deal with it. Does it require a military, economic or diplomatic response? And the crisis has created large numbers of refugees. Countries like yours may be giving money to refugee camps in the region on your behalf; they may also be considering whether to accept and resettle more people at home.
- Is there anything I can do to help?
- You can lobby your government to do something, if you can think of a measure they should be taking. You can also give money to charities such as UNICEF or Save the Children, which are delivering aid to people in Syria.
- There is very little diesel to provide power. Bana’s family have set up solar panels to power their home.
- A condition which causes skin and the whites of the eyes to turn yellow.
- Bana and her mother Fatemah use the account, tweeting in English. They have tweeted heart-breaking images of bodies and damage; criticised Assad and Putin in scathing and often sarcastic terms; and called on the US to do more to secure peace.
- Anne Frank
- A young Jewish girl who wrote a diary during the second world war, when she and her family were hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam. The book has become a bestseller.
- Civil war
- A rebellion against Assad began in 2011, amid the wider ‘Arab spring’ protests. Assad responded with military force and by 2012 a full civil war was underway.
- Alan Kurdi
- A young boy whose body was washed up on a beach. His family were trying to travel from Turkey to Greece in a makeshift boat when it capsized.
- According to aid groups cited by The New York Times. If their population estimate (250,000) is also correct, there is just one doctor for every 7,143 people.