29/11/2013 06:38 GMT | Updated 28/01/2014 05:59 GMT

The Gardenia Boys: 10-Year-Olds Standing Alone on Street Corners Selling Flowers at Midnight


Most of the time I love my job, but sometimes I hate it. Sometimes it makes it hard to sleep.

It's just after midnight in Tripoli, Lebanon. I'm on my way home from a lovely evening in Beirut with friends. I am nearly home. The streets are empty.

Out of the car window I catch a glimpse of a little figure. A young boy leaning on a car with one hand, dozing off with a bunch of roses and gardenia flower chains in another. I ask my friend to go around the roundabout again and to stop in front of the boy. He jumps. The car lights wake him up. He picks himself up and approaches the car.

I start a conversation with the little boy, curious to know why he is still out on the streets. He tells me his name is Samir. He is a Syrian refugee from Halab. He and his family arrived in Lebanon a month and a half ago. He tells me his parents are at home with his siblings. He comes out every day and stands at this spot to sell flowers. As he spoke a million questions were running through my mind but I was struggling to find words. My heart broke every time his big brown eyes looked at me.

It sounds pathetic, but all I could do was beg Samir to go home. He looked down at his feet. Silence. He said he couldn't. His family needed the money. He had to sell all of his flower chains. Samir has been doing this for a couple of weeks now. He told me that sometimes he gets scared when he hears the shooting in Tripoli. He doesn't know what to do. Of course he doesn't, he is only ten years old.

I naively asked Samir who was going to be picking him up when he finished; nobody he told me. He told me he would get into a taxi and go home to Wadi al Nahle where his family lives. My friend and I gave all the money we had to buy Samir's flowers so he could go home. But we didn't have enough. Again I found myself begging Samir to go home. He shook his head and looked down. I told Samir to be careful and to go home as soon as he could. As we drove off I burst into a hysterical fit of tears. I couldn't contain myself.

Back in Syria, Samir went to school. He told me he had never worked before his family came to Lebanon. Now because of this brutal war he is standing alone on a street corner selling flowers at midnight. Samir should be at home, safe in his bed.

As I struggled to stop crying, my sadness turned into rage. I wanted to scream. This is how war robs children of their childhood. This is a crime. This war is not just killing people, it's destroying a generation.

Samir is one of hundreds of 'gardenia boys'; Syrian refugee boys on the streets of Lebanon selling gardenia chains. It's not a secret. These children are everywhere you look. What's tragic is we are getting used to seeing them. Despite the assistance we, as UNHCR and our partners provide, and it is considerable, I feel it's still not enough.

We work so hard, my colleagues and I. We really do. And you know sometimes I believe we are making a difference. But at times like this I am scared. I am scared that it's not enough.

It's one thirty in the morning. I am still up. I assume so is Samir. He had at least another ten chains to sell.

Tonight it's hard to sleep.

UNHCR has just published a report about refugee children in Lebanon and Jordan. It shows in detail the incredible impact the war in Syria has had on these children. Part of the report highlights the number of Syrian refugee children, just like Samir, who are working every day to support their families. We're asking people to donate if they can, but we've also created a number of different ways you can share stories like this one to raise awareness of these children and their families. Read more about children like Samirhere.

Bathoul Ahmed is a Senior Public Information/External Relations Assistant at UNHCR Lebanon, based in Tripoli.