From refugee to global activist
Can you imagine living in fear of bombing every day? How would you feel if you lost your best friend? What would it be like to flee your home?
The answers to these questions may seem impossible to envision, but, sadly, 10 year-old author, activist and Syrian refugee Bana al-Abed does not need to use her imagination. She shared the story of her harrowing experiences at the Reykjavik Global Forum- Women Leaders in November 2019.
The conditions for children as described by Ms. Abed in Aleppo, Syria, are nothing short of hellish. There was “not a single day without bombing” and all around Ms. Abed children were dying, including her best friend Yasmine. Schools were also closed as they were deemed unsafe. Leaving Aleppo with her mother provokes mixed emotions in Ms. Abed. On the one hand, she recalls being “happy to get out of the war.” On the other hand, she remembers feeling “very sad to leave [her] country.”
Ms. Abed laments that time and time again political leaders have let down children in war-torn countries. On top of this, child refugees are often not afforded a proper education upon relocation.
Despite her young age, Ms. Abed has amassed over 370,000 Twitter followers. This attention came in 2016 after she began to document the horrific carnage surrounding her during the battle of Aleppo. In spite of her trying experiences, Ms. Abed remains hopeful. She is confident that her message can open the world’s eyes to the urgent need to provide accessible education to children whose early years have been robbed by war and conflict.
The “lost generation”
Eight years onward the ramifications of the war in Syria may seem obvious, but beyond this “children are still paying the price for a war they didn’t start,” according to Ms. Abed. The price: a lack of opportunity. Children cannot access education, training or a safe, stable environment as the conflict rages on. Leaders, Ms. Abed continues, are not doing enough for education in Syria. The sustained disregard of adequate schooling in warzones risks a “lost generation,” not just in Syria, but in Yemen, Somalia, Kurdistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Remarkably, Ms. Abed remains optimistic. Optimism is what drove her and her mother to leave the country they grew up in to seek safety and opportunity elsewhere. Optimism also informs Ms. Abed’s central opinions on education: education represents a means of escape for Syrians from a life of fight or flight. It was, after all, her mother’s knowledge of English that helped her tweets reach a global audience and garner Ms. Abed widespread notoriety; transforming her into the voice for the hundreds of thousands of young refugees who would not otherwise be heard. While Ms. Abed is hopeful, she is driven to ensure that education, and hope, can be imparted to others who are in her situation.