A psychological support centre in Aleppo runs after-school programmes to help children cope with the ongoing war.
Throughout the war in Syria, schools have been targeted by both rebel and regime forces.
According to UNICEF, there were 60 attacks on schools in Syria in 2015, killing a total of 591 children. This year, the United Nations has documented 84 attacks on schools across the country, with at least 69 children losing their lives and many others injured.
Here, Fatima Haji Suleiman, a Syrian mother, reflects on the death of her 13-year-old daughter who was killed during an aerial bombardment on the main Kamal school complex in the northern Syrian village of Haas in late October.
Every mother’s dream is to watch her baby grow into a young person who contributes positively to the world. As you watch your baby develop, day-by-day, year-by-year, it gives you immense joy knowing that your dream is slowly becoming a reality.
As mothers, we lose sleep to keep them happy, we work hard to provide for them, we tire ourselves to give them a better life.
The moment the bombs fell, my heart instantly began to hurt like it was on fire. I frantically ran into the street screaming my daughter’s name: Renad, Renad, Renad!
Our children essentially become an extension of our own lives.
The first day my child went to school, I cried and so did she. I knew that this was going to be the day that she gained her independence and something so valuable: her education.
But the romantic part of this story dies here.
My name is Fatima Haji Suleiman and I am from al-Haas. It’s a small village in the countryside of Idlib, in Syria. I was the mother of a beautiful 13-year-old girl named Renad.
Raising a family in Syria during the war means that there are always risks when going outside: snipers, bullets, bombs. But the sound of my daughter’s voice brought me joy and purpose, and helped me work towards her future in spite of the terror of six years of war.
On October 26, I dropped my daughter off at school and went to my centre in Kafr Nabl, close to my home. I am a psychosocial care specialist providing psychological and social support to children who are exposed to the traumas of war and people with special needs.
Just before noon on that Wednesday, our small town was attacked by an intense aerial bombardment. My daughter’s school was hit by eight air strikes. The moment the bombs fell, my heart instantly began to hurt like it was on fire. I ran frantically into the street screaming my daughter’s name: Renad, Renad, Renad!
My colleague offered to drive me home but I had to get to my daughter to see if she was safe. Others warned me that it was dangerous, but I could not stop. I had to find her.
I pushed the people who tried to hold me back and we drove to the school. Once there, I ran out of the car and around what remained of my daughter’s school complex. All I could see were the faces of children – shocked, scared, covered in dust and blood. I asked everyone if they had seen my daughter.
But no one could answer me through their cries and screams.
Then, suddenly, we looked up to see another rocket above us. “Everyone hide!” The people scattered and fell to the ground like leaves, hiding behind whatever structures remained. The rocket landed a few blocks away. People re-emerged, and we returned to searching for our children.
I looked for Renad between the blood-covered bodies of the children. I looked among the books and the bags for her name. As I rummaged through the rubble, the school papers and the body parts, I heard myself crying and screaming. I talked to each arm or leg I pulled from among the concrete: “Renad? Is this you? Oh God!”
Extreme pain rolled over me, like the cold dead winter. I asked myself, what is the difference if this is my daughter’s or someone else’s arm or leg? All children are my children. My heart broke and I could not stop weeping. As I stood there sobbing, a gentle hand grabbed my shoulder. “My sister, Renad is at your house,” said the person it belonged to. “You swear to God?” I replied. He did not say a word.
Then like a sword to my heart, I blurted out the words: “Is she dead?”
In a state of shock, I found myself in front of my home. There were many cars and people there. I yelled at the crowd: “Where is she?”
“She’s in the living room,” they replied.
Inside, I found Renad on the floor, her body covered. I fell to the ground, wailing. Terrified that her precious body was mangled, I lifted the cover and saw her face. It was a beautiful yellowish colour. There was dust and sand trapped in her fine hairs. I rubbed my hands across her body and thanked God that she was in one piece.
I examined my baby’s face like it was the first time I had seen her and found that a piece of shrapnel had cut through her neck next to her ear, sparing her a long painful death. I yelled: “Why our children? How can humans be so cruel to kill our children?” I prayed that God would bring justice to the perpetrators of our suffering.
My family and friends urged me to let go of her body and to let them take her to the cemetery while it was safe to go outside. But I wasn’t ready. I needed more time to kiss and hold her.
My body and hands were covered with her blood.
Family and friends asked me: “Do you love her?”
“Of course I do, she is my other half, she is my everything,” I answered.
“Then let her go, let her be with God,” they told me. “God will have mercy on her, and will love her more than we can here. She is returning home, and will have a much better life in heaven than she has here in Syria.”
I will never forget her fragrance, her laughter, the delight of coming home to her voice. What is most difficult for me today, is calling out her name, knowing that she is not here to reply.
I still cannot pass by what is left of her school. The other mothers and I feel the same way, but we take comfort together. We talk about our great tragedy, and we wonder how the world can watch people murder children and do nothing.
My daughter was the best piece of me, and there is nothing harder than to experience losing that part of yourself, knowing that you will never see it again. I pray that God will have mercy on me, and any mother in the world who loses her child to any kind of harm.
The children of al-Haas school were not killed only by air strikes and bombs on October 26. They were killed by a lack of compassion, humanity and justice from the world.
This is my story. I had to share it through my great pain. I am the mother of the martyred 13-year-old girl, Renad Khaled Al Daaef. I ask for your support to help us stop the atrocities being committed against our children in Syria.