Two years ago this week I was sitting in a refugee hospital along Turkey's border with Syria, listening to a 15-year-old girl describe the day she was shot by a sniper. In the spine. Paralyzed. For the rest of her life.
Her name was Maya.
In the room beside her I met Noor, a woman in her twenties whose mother, sister, and five young nephews were brutally dismembered when a barrel bomb fell on their village. She and her father alone survived the attack.
"Al barmeel," she said in Arabic, again and again, her tears falling uncontrollably on her metal-framed bed.
Al barmeel is Arabic for "the barrel," a barrel packed with TNT and shrapnel, commonly used by the Assad regime to terrorize residential neighborhoods, hospitals, and schools. When the bomb falls, shrapnel flies in all directions. It cuts off heads and limbs, severing small bodies in playgrounds and schools.
Human Rights Watch has documented extensively Syrian government use of these weapons of terror. "Use of barrel bombs in residential neighborhoods has done the expected: killed hundreds of civilians and driven thousands from their homes," according to Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
"If these indiscriminate dumb weapons managed to hit a military target, it would be sheer luck," she added.
Noor had school photos of each of her young nephews pasted carefully on a small piece of cardboard -- her only relic from the bombing that destroyed her family. That day in the hospital I held the cardboard, staring into each of their eyes.
I felt hot tears streaming down my face as she pointed to each one, speaking their names aloud.
This week in Washington DC, from March 11-15, the names of Noor's nephews - and so many others like them - will be read aloud in front of the White House.
I'm joining many of my friends from across Syria and the United States, as we stand together to recognize the lives lost -- the lives of these beautiful children, their families, and their communities.
In a January 2015 press release, the UN announced that at least 220,000 people have been killed in the course of the Syrian conflict.
When I visited Turkey's border with Syria two years ago, the conflict had already reached epic proportions. Standing in the hospital that day, I couldn't have imagined that the war would rage beyond another two years.
Since that day I have visited refugees from Syria living in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, hearing firsthand the stories of lives lost, families barely surviving the bombings in their communities, children missing years of school, and in Beirut, Lebanon, where Syrian families struggle to pay escalating rent, making ends meet with minimum wage jobs, grateful only to find a haven from the violence.
As this week progresses, more than 200,000 names of Syrians killed during the conflict will be spoken aloud in front of the White House. The targeted, paralyzed, murdered children of Syria will be among those remembered throughout this week, as will victims of regime barrel bombs and ISIS terror attacks.
I'm standing here today in front of the White House to remember, to read aloud, to recognize. The Syrian revolution began peacefully four years ago this month. But as the country descended into a violent war, the world grew silent. And somehow, here in Washington DC, it still seems impossible for our leaders to recognize the human toll -- the thousands of innocent lives lost, the children slaughtered.
The White House needs to hear. The world needs to hear.
These names -- all 200,000 of them -- deserve to be heard, recognized, remembered.
That day in a hospital along the Syrian border, as I heard the names of five children who had died in the most unimaginable way, I knew I could never forget.