A mother and her two sons were on a boat that got lost at sea while making their escape from Afghanistan.
The refugees (due to safety concerns, we won't use their names) had to throw everything they owned overboard. They were rescued by another boat and arrived in Germany with nothing, knowing no one, and moved into an airport-turned-refugee camp in Berlin. Despite the harrowing journey, their future looks brighter. Watch their story:
Until they arrived in Germany, these children’s lives had not been peaceful.
The home they came from was war-torn Afghanistan, where 1,943 civilian casualties were reported in the first quarter of 2016 alone. Many children there spend their days afraid for their safety, surrounded by armed violence and poverty, looting, and potential recruitment by militia groups.
Children are at a particular risk in areas affected by war. Constant exposure to threat of danger — not just of bodily harm, but also of sexual violence and recruitment to armed groups — ultimately robs them of their ability to experience their childhoods properly. They don't get to play or go to school, and according to Save the Children, this has negative effects long after they leave their home countries. Refugee children often react to their trauma by withdrawing from others and refusing to play or laugh. Many end up with learning disabilities and developmental issues, and when the problems go untreated, they can turn into long-term psychological conditions.
For a child of war, the opportunity to move to a peacetime environment — even in an abandoned airport — is a chance at a new life.
Living conditions for refugees are far from optimal, but for children, the simple freedom to experience life as a kid represents a massive change from life in their war-occupied countries of origin. Getting to play, go to school, and have regular kid experiences does wonders, as evidenced by the sense of calm that the boy in the video shows. And he's likely to continue to thrive — studies on the psychological recovery of refugee children have shown that they are strikingly capable of survival in the direst of circumstances, and often, these same qualities of resilience are what give them the potential to thrive in their new homes.
So what can we do?
For starters, we can find out more about the work that organizations like Save the Children are doing to make children's welfare "an integral part of every humanitarian response." If you're able to, donate with intention to causes that do the most positive work in war-occupied areas. Save the Children's charitable gift catalog, for instance, allows individuals to donate items to children in need. Additionally, Johnson & Johnson matches all Save the Children gifts up to $450,000, so your donation goes twice as far. (Don't have it in the budget? Johnson & Johnson also makes it possible to Donate a Photo.)
It's also imperative to look for ways to support refugees once they've made it out of their country of origin. Finding refuge in camps in peaceful countries is an imperative step toward escape for victims of war, but it’s no substitute for a safe home with doors that lock, education, employment, and health care — all of which are necessary for refugee families to settle fully and successfully in their new homes.
The best way to help is to simply look for ways to aid in the refugee crisis in general. Anything that can help establish a sense of normalcy for a refugee child is another step toward helping them achieve a happy life.