Syria is one of the most dangerous places to be a child.
This statement may not mean much to you and it may even, quite understandably, be overlooked by most, as headline after headline continue to tell us that we are now in the midst of an ever-growing number of humanitarian crises taking place across the world.
But it does mean something. It means everything. It means something must be done.
As we prepare for Christmas and the New Year with our loved ones, millions of vulnerable children who have fled violence and witnessed unspeakable horrors in their homeland of Syria are facing another threat – the deadly cold winter.
Frightened children will be living and sleeping in bitterly freezing conditions in Syria and in refugee settlements in neighbouring countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, or on perilous journeys in search of safety. Without warm winter supplies, they will struggle to survive. Many have grown up knowing only crisis, with profound, long-term effects on their health and well-being.
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It’s been just over a year since I visited northern Iraq, where thousands of Syrian families and children had settled after fleeing unspeakable atrocities in their home country. I have never felt more confused and upset and it fills me with dread to picture how they all must be coping with what they witnessed, combined with the treacherous conditions of life inside the camps now that temperatures continue to plummet.
I remember meeting 13-year-old Hanan from Qamishli in Syria, who lived in Debaga refugee camp with her four sisters and two brothers. The family had lived inside their makeshift tent in the camp for three years by the time we arrived. They told me what life was like for them back home in Syria, where everything had crumbled, and there was not enough water, food or electricity.
A few months into life in the camp, their tent caught fire, something which is devastatingly common in heavy populated refugee camps and hugely traumatic for her and her family. All they had left from their life back home in Syria was a few burnt and singed photographs.
I think of them often. How are they surviving now during these bitterly cold months? Did they have enough warmth to see them through, and were they in good enough health even though they must be facing below freezing temperatures?
It is because of these fears that I am so happy HuffPost UK is giving its readers the opportunity to support Unicef’s work for Syrian children this winter.
For me, the situation for Syrian families is real and, as a Unicef Ambassador, I have been very fortunate to have seen what incredible, life-changing donations from generous Unicef supporters can do for children such as Hanan, who wants to be a translator and is studying hard to improve her English. Her school is supported by Unicef, and is a place where she and the other children can return to a sense of routine and normalcy after the stress and disruption they have experienced in their young lives.
Despite the obvious suffering, it is this positivity, hope and determination that I remember most. It makes me smile to think of these children continuing to pursue an adulthood full of hopes and dreams and I am determined myself to amplify their ambition for change as much as I can.
Children should be safe and warm. They should be with their families. They should be in school; playing, learning and living like any other child. A child is a child, no matter what. As we enter into the last weeks of the year, it is now a matter of life and death. They’re human beings. Like us. Like you and me.
Unicef is one of the few organisations working inside Syria, as well as supporting refugees in neighbouring countries with urgent humanitarian aid. They will reach as many children as possible over the next few months with winter clothing kits – containing thermal blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, shoes and socks; as well as heating for classrooms and play spaces; and cash assistance for families to address the most urgent needs for their children over the winter.
The Unicef aid workers I have met are working tirelessly to reach every vulnerable child, but they cannot do it alone and the need has never been so urgent. There is so much more we can and should do to turn the tide for Syrian’s children and I am so proud to stand with an organisation that will not rest until child in danger is reached. Violence does continue in Syria, but together, through HuffPost UK readers’ generous help, we can keep more Syrian children safe, happy and warm this winter.
HuffPost UK has teamed up with Unicef to raise money for Syrian children affected by a war which has stretched over almost seven years.