In February, the aid group Save the Children sent photographer Nick Ballon to the Syrian-Turkey border with a grim mission: Put a human face on the suffering of the estimated 7.5 million Syrian children directly impacted by the country’s brutal civil war.
The resulting project, published below, includes portraits of six Syrian children — one for each year of the conflict — and then visual interpretations of key parts of their stories by UK-based animator Alma Haser.
Abbas, 7, and his mother, Abira, 30:
“We felt we needed to show the boy’s vulnerability and his mother’s pain in the art. ... It looked as if there were these shards, these tentacles of danger around them.”
“Nesreen spoke of Syria turning to rubble. With Alma’s expertise in origami, we thought that would work really well; particularly to represent the imagery of the bombings, explosions, [and] sprays of gunfire.”
“Each layer of poster ripping away [is] to reveal what is in reality a devastated and heartbroken boy underneath.”
“Razan’s sister described Razan as absent — that she looks like Razan, but from the inside she is no longer the same girl. We interpreted that in a way as Razan living as a shell of herself.”
“He has so much fear now, which he spoke about — his fears of sudden loud sounds and when the electricity turns off. ... The origami surrounding him represents that fear.”
“For Hassan, we were asked not to show his face clearly. So I used the crumpling technique for the still image.”
Save the Children has been working in and around Syria for more than four years, providing aid to 3.3 million people, including 2.1 million children.
Much of its work is currently centered in Turkey, which has been deluged by 2.8 million Syrian refugees, nearly half of whom are children. All told, the aid group estimates that 7.5 million Syrian children have been affected by the conflict.
The Syrians who made it to Turkey often paid a heavy physical or psychological price, seeing friends and relatives killed in front of their eyes or having their desperate journeys punctuated by the sounds of explosions and the sights of ravaged homes, hospitals, and schools. The youngest refugees were often the hardest hit.
In a recent report, Save the Children said that a 2015 survey of Syrian refugee children in Turkey found that 45 percent had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — 10 times the rate in the rest of the world — and that 44 percent showed signs of depression. Per the report:
For the past six years, children in Syria have been bombed and starved. They have seen their friends and families die before their eyes or buried under the rubble of their homes. They have watched their schools and hospitals destroyed, been denied food, medicine and vital aid, and been torn apart from their families and friends as they flee the fighting. Every year that the war goes on plumbs new, previously unimaginable depths of violence against children, and violations of international law by all sides.
The world has collectively averted its eyes, but the war grinds on, leaving shattered human beings in its wake.
To learn more about Save the Children or to donate to Save the Children’s Syria Relief Fund, please visit Savethechildren.org/Syria.