As the first week of December falls upon us, and we start to prepare for the festive season with our families, millions of vulnerable children who have fled violence and witnessed unspeakable horrors in their homeland of Syria are facing yet 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, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt or on perilous journeys in search of safety. For many, violence and loss is all they have ever known.
I remember when I visited Za’atari refugee camp to see how Unicef is helping children recover their childhoods, I met children back in education, in Unicef-supported schools and providing desperately needed psychosocial support to children who don’t know if their shattered lives will ever be normal again.
The children I met had fled Syria for their lives. I heard the same tales of losing homes, their schools and their friends, and stories of unimaginable violence and danger.
One such child that I remember fondly was Odai - a healthy, happy baby boy with chubby cheeks and big sparkling brown eyes. He showed me a new trick of blowing kisses as he was passed into my arms. At just 18 months old, Odai had never seen the world outside of Za’atari refugee camp. His life began here in this sprawling, dusty, desert shelter, just eight miles from the Jordanian border with war-torn Syria.
During my visit, I remember spending one whole hour hiding out in a cabin to shelter from a sudden, violent sand storm that whipped up thick clouds of red dust that scratched my throat and stung my eyes. Bursts of rain cleared the air, and children as young as 13 could be seen scraping a thick layer of wet sandy sludge from their make-do homes.
It was only then that I began to understand just how vulnerable these children are - exposed to the elements - and I started to imagine just what life will be like in this place when the wind and rain is replaced by freezing winter snow during these winter months.
This will be some children’s sixth winter in the camp, and whilst the possibility of snow provides a distraction for the older children, for babies and younger children it brings an added danger.
We alone can’t give the children of Syria what they need the most - lasting peace, an end to the fighting - but we can protect their lives, their bodies and their minds from further harm and help them survive yet another bitter winter here in the Jordanian desert.
This is why I am so happy HuffPost UK is giving its readers the opportunity to support Unicef’s work for Syrian children this winter. Without warm winter supplies, they will struggle to survive. 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.
For children in Za’atari, Unicef is delivering not just preservation of life right now, but the chance for a safe, healthy and happy life in the future. These children, just like my own, have a right not only to life left in limbo, but to a life truly worth living.
Unicef is one of the few organisations working inside Syria, as well as supporting refugees in neighbouring countries with urgent humanitarian aid. We 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.
Unicef staff on the ground are working tirelessly to reach every vulnerable child, but they cannot do it alone and the need has never been so urgent. 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.