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Voices, video, and photos from Oxfam's fight against poverty

The girl whose face you’ll never see

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Oxfam’s Jane Beesley is in northern Lebanon documenting the stories of Syrian refugees.

Shoes belonging to Reema (not her real name), 12, a refugee from Syria living in Lebanon. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam
Shoes belonging to Reema (not her real name), 12, a refugee from Syria living in Lebanon. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Today I met a girl whose face you’ll never see because she’s too scared about what will happen when she returns to Syria.“I don’t want my photograph to be taken because I’m afraid that when we go back something might happen to us.” If I quoted her on everything she said you would say I made it up. She’s 12 going on 25.

She lives on the first floor of a house, in Lebanon, still under construction. There are piles of rubble and concrete all around, no windows, no comfort. She sleeps in a small “room” with her parents and four siblings.

I’d just finished talking with someone else when she came up and started talking to me in a mixture of English and Arabic. The first thing she says is, “I was at school when it was bombed. Some of the children were killed. We all ran away. We left because we were afraid of the bombings in Syria. When we saw the bombing of the school we thought they bombed all schools all over the world.” It feels like one of the saddest things I’ve heard.

“I miss my friends,” she says, “I miss my teachers. I miss my classes, my English classes, my Arabic classes, my music classes. Now I’m just sitting here every day.” Her mother adds, “She gets bored a lot and keeps crying. I don’t let the children out on the street because I don’t want them to have problems with other children and I’m scared they might fall and get hurt. I don’t have money for any medical treatment.”

The girl continues, “‘I don’t have a pencil, no paper, no nothing. I wake up in the morning and I see children going to school and I cry, why don’t I have the right to go to school? And I sit here and I remember our home back in Syria before the fighting.”

Looking around the small area that is now home, she points and says, “We moved sand and stones from here with our own hands so we could try and have some kind normal living here. There are a lot of rats. I’ve seen them. We get sick because of them.”

A year ago her home in Syria was destroyed by the bombing. In the time that followed they moved from place to place. Each time the fighting got worse the family moved on. Eventually they spent three months living underground with no electricity.

The few belongings that Shatha's family managed to take with them after their home in Syria was destroyed by an air strike hang on bare walls inside the partially constructed building that is serving as their home. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam
The few belongings that Reema’s family managed to take with them after their home in Syria was destroyed by an air strike hang on bare walls inside the partially constructed building that is serving as their home. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

She’s the most articulate 12-year-old I’ve met. I’m told, “She was at a school for bright students and was in the top class.” Without a shadow of a doubt she loved school; repeating again the classes, teachers and friends she loved, and saying how so many children died. “I have no idea what has happened to my friends. I don’t know if they are here in Lebanon or in Syria.” When her school was first bombed, “…it was only a small corner so we continued going to school but then it was bombed again and no one was able to go back.”

We look at the tiny space they have for cooking. She looks at me and apologizes: “I’m sorry I’ve forgotten the word in English.” She means kitchen. For the rest of our time together she keeps apologizing. “It’s been a year now since I went to school and I’m forgetting many things. The teachers used to take me to other schools to represent my school. As well as classes I used to teach myself English by reading English books.”

Before leaving she says, “I loved my city. I loved my school. I loved my friends. I loved my teachers.” Her final words are, “Will you come back and visit us?”

Oxfam is providing vulnerable families, including Reema’s, with cash to help them afford safe housing and other essentials. Learn more about how Oxfam is helping Syrian refugees and donate now to support these efforts.

Read more about Reema here.

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