"I saw my cousin dying in front of me, so I always see this scene in front of my eyes." Hearing an adult say these words would be chilling enough. To hear them come from an 8-year-old is a nightmare. Two years ago, Layla was 6 and living with her family in Syria as typical child playing with neighbors and siblings and going to school. Now, civil war and a flight for her life has exposed her to the kind of anxiety and separation from a safe home that will limit her chances of a bright future.
The Syrian war has displaced 66,000 children and more are being forced to flee their homes every day. In a recent World Vision report, we interviewed 100 Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon. These children spoke of their trauma, and high levels of stress and anxiety, from being separated from their families and witnessing horrors no child should ever have to see or even hear about.
These children are also experiencing an education upheaval, as they now face a lack of access to schools and any sense of a safe place to learn and simply be a child. One 7-year-old child shared, "I hear my parents talk about war that they are bombing houses. Instead my friends and I just talk about how much we loved school."
Being out of school for a long time could leave part of a generation of Syrians so far behind that it may be impossible for them to catch up and would undermine their ability to contribute to their country's recovery if and when they return. The effects are already evident, as 11-year-old Rhouba said, "I started to forget the shape of some letters."
In the Lebanon context, children outside of school are at high risk for abuse and exploitation in the informal labor market. They are separated by their parents and forced to care for their siblings. They feel they have no stability because their world was turned upside down by a crisis that was more violent and overwhelming than any family and child could handle.
These Syrian children went from being healthy, normal children to living in the midst of violence, conflict, and adversity; they are just one example of the millions of children in adversity around the world. When people hear about "children in adversity," they often think of orphans made vulnerable by the AIDS pandemic, used as weapons of war, or exploited for sex or labor, but it refers to all children inside and outside of family care who are deprived, excluded, vulnerable, and at risk for violence, abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
We need a new kind of response to protect children from such atrocities so they can thrive and there's hope for that through the collaboration of civil society and the U.S. government with the new "Action Plan for Children in Adversity." All of the vulnerabilities found in these Syrian children point to the need for a strong beginning, a loving family, and the ability to respond to this kind of violence, abuse, neglect, and even exploitation of children. This plan is designed to meet that need. Furthermore, it points out the need to work hand-in-hand with countries across the world, both lower-income countries and middle-income countries (like Lebanon), to ensure they have the ability to respond to and even prevent the kind of vulnerability that can mean the difference between a child's life fulfilled or a life cut short.
An investment in a child is an investment in our future -- and everyone plays a role, from governments, to communities, to you. These investments will strengthen our global economy, enable more children to attend and complete school, become productive citizens, avoid crime, and raise healthy families themselves. It's time to move past short-term solutions and make real progress to ensure that every child has the chance to survive and thrive.
This post was produced by The Huffington Post and the Children in Adversity Policy Partnership as part of a series in conjunction with the latter's "A Bold Initiative for Children." For more information about this event, click here.