Your 2016 person of the year: Bana Alabed

Peace: Bana used a smartphone and solar-powered charger to tweet from Aleppo. © @alabedbana

She is the seven-year-old girl whose tweets forced the world to take notice of the war in East Aleppo. Meet the person chosen by The Day’s readers as 2016 person of the year: Bana Alabed.

‘I am happy I lost two more teeth!’ tweeted a little girl on December 8th, along with a smiling photo proudly showing off the gaps in her grin. But she would have to wait for her reward, and she knew it. ‘The tooth fairy is afraid of the bombing here,’ she had written two weeks before. ‘When the war finishes, it will come.’

Clearly this was no ordinary seven-year-old. Bana Alabed’s account gained over 350,000 followers since she joined in September 2016. For most of this time she lived in East Aleppo as the four-year battle between rebels and the government drew to a close. Russian bombs fell from the sky. The city was starved of food. And Bana chronicled her life under siege.

Some messages were simple: ‘I am very happy because it’s raining,’ she said on October 18th. At other times she talked about her dreams for the future: she wants to be a teacher and to write a book, but the bombs kept her from going to school. ‘Let me learn English and maths,’ she begged on September 24th.

But the tweets that got the most attention were also the most terrifying. In November her house was bombed. By December she was sick, without any clean water or medicine. ‘This is my last moment to live or die,’ she wrote on December 13th, as President Assad’s forces closed in during the final days of fighting. Journalists in the West dubbed her ‘Syria’s Anne Frank’, and her thousands of followers desperately waited for updates.

She lived; a ceasefire meant that she and her family were evacuated a few days later, and she is now one of the 2.7 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

But much of Aleppo, the city she called home, was destroyed during the war. Thousands were killed, including children just like Bana. On December 22nd, Assad declared that he had taken full control of the city. Peace talks have been promised — but this week they were halted by rebels due to ‘breaches’ of the ceasefire. It could be a long time before Bana and the tooth fairy go home.

I, witness

First Anne Frank, then Malala Yousafzai, and now Bana Alabed; for many people, there is nothing in the world more powerful than the voice of a young girl telling her story. That is why Bana’s sweet and haunting words captured the world’s attention when it seemed like everyone else had lost interest. It was proof that one voice can change everything.

It should never have been left to a seven-year-old to make people care about Syria, say others. Bana was failed by the groups that should have protected her: it is the job of governments and the UN to end war — not the children who are trying to survive it. And as powerful as her words were, Syria’s future will still be decided by bombs and diplomats.

You Decide

  1. Was Bana Alabed a good choice for the 2016 person of the year?
  2. Can the voice of a single child be more powerful than global institutions like the UN?

Activities

  1. What would you say to the world today if you knew that 350,000 people were listening? Write three sentences, no more than 140 characters each.
  2. Research another ‘witness’ who helped draw attention to an important cause. Create a short profile of their life.

Some People Say...

“Children understand far more than adults ever can.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What can I learn from Bana?
Most of all, she asks people not to forget the plight of civilians in war-torn areas, particularly children and refugees. By putting a human face to Syria’s war, she proved that it was about more than just politics and statistics. And by tweeting her experiences, she showed that one small voice can make a difference.
How do we know that she is telling the truth?
You’re right to be sceptical about things you see in the news — there is a lot of false information out there, especially on social media. But Bana does seem to be who she says she is, and her account has been independently verified. However, her mother has admitted that she helped Bana, and wanted to use her tweets as a ‘weapon’ against the government by drawing attention to children’s lives in Aleppo.

Word Watch

East Aleppo
Once Syria’s most populous city, Aleppo was divided roughly in half when its battle began in 2012, with rebels occupying the east. When Assad and Russia intensified their efforts in November, this ground was quickly lost. In December the rebels agreed a ceasefire so that remaining civilians could leave.
Russian
Russia has supported Assad’s government since the civil war began in 2011. In 2015 this began to include military support, mostly in the form of air strikes.
President Assad
Syria’s president, in power since 2000.
Anne Frank
The Jewish teenager hid from Nazis for two years in Amsterdam, where she kept a diary. She and her family were arrested in 1944, and she died in a concentration camp in 1945. Her writing was published two years later.
2.7 million
According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates for the beginning of 2017.
Malala Yousafzai
The Pakistani teenager wrote a blog about her life under Taliban control from when she was 11. Shot in the head aged 15, she survived, and still campaigns for the right to an education for all girls.

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