THE BLOG
23/07/2013 06:54 BST | Updated 21/09/2013 06:12 BST

Imagine Having to Tell Your Kids Christmas Is Cancelled: Ramadan in a Refugee Camp

For two years in Syria the conflict, which fractured Heshan's family, put a stop to celebrations, and this year in Domiz refugee camp in northern Iraq there isn't the money or the spirit to mark the occasion. "It's not a special day anymore. It just happens and no-one notices," his mother, Naslya, tells me. "There is no life in this tent."

Hesham is 12 and has missed Eid al-Fitr for the past three years. Eid al-Fitr is the major Islamic celebration that comes after Ramadan, and is basically the equivalent of Christmas for Christians.

Ramadan began on 10 July this year. The holy month of fasting is usually accompanied by evenings spent with family and friends, breaking the fast together with traditional foods. It culminates in Eid al-Fitr, a two-day holiday with family, feasting and presents for children.

For two years in Syria the conflict, which fractured Heshan's family, put a stop to celebrations, and this year in Domiz refugee camp in northern Iraq there isn't the money or the spirit to mark the occasion.

"It's not a special day anymore. It just happens and no-one notices," his mother, Naslya, tells me. "There is no life in this tent."

Heshan is the only one of her children with her. Naslya's two adult daughters were married at the beginning of the conflict, and moved away. She hasn't heard from either of them in over two years and believes they may be in Turkey.

"Three years ago in Syria, Eid was great. Our relatives would visit us and there would be dancing. We would take the children to the playground every night during Ramadan," she says. "Three years ago there was no war."

Hesham tells me he used to look forward to the celebrations, which to him meant presents, money, ice cream and playing with his friends.

This year he wanted new clothes and new shoes for Eid, he says. But when he asks his mother when they will go shopping, she tells him they can't afford anything.

In another tent, Marim and her nine children, aged from four to 22 years, are spending Ramadan and Eid away from close family. Her husband is still in Damascus - he stayed to sell their house and said he would follow soon, but so far he hasn't been able to do either.

"It's hard for the children not to see their father for Eid," Marim says. "My youngest son cries and asks me where his dad is."

Aside from missing family, Marim's kids know there's no point asking for presents or treats this year.

"My children used to get so excited looking forward to Eid," Marim tells me. "And they know it's Ramadan now, but they don't talk about Eid anymore."

Sadeya and her six-year-old daughter, Nerjiz, are facing their second Eid in the camp. But Nerjiz hasn't forgotten how they used to celebrate, and doesn't understand that they have very little money now. She keeps begging to leave the camp for a day or two to visit a fun park like they did in Syria. But Sadeya has to keep saying no, and trying to explain to her daughter how things have changed now.

At this time of year Sadeya also misses her own mother - who has remained in Syria - so much she says she cries when she thinks of her.

Nearly everyone I know cherishes their childhood memories of festivals like Eid, or Christmas, or whatever festivals and occasions their family celebrated. It's a magical part of being young, whether it's about candy and presents, or favourite grandparents and aunts. But Syria's children are missing this - many for the third year running. The memories they look back on will be very different to the memories their parents wanted to give them.

This is partly why the activities UNICEF and partners run for children at Domiz camp, both in the Child Friendly Space and the recently launched summer activities in schools, are vital to giving these children some positive memories to look back on. For refugee children, these activities - sports, theatre, music, drawing and playing with their friends - may become some the bright spots in their memories of camp life.