Growing Up in a War Zone

Monday, October 15, 2012

Syrians inspect damage at the site of a car bomb on the southeastern outskirts of the Syrian capital. Syrians inspect damage at the site of a car bomb on the southeastern outskirts of the Syrian capital. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/GettyImages)

While war continues to ravage Syria, the world watches in horror. The question weighing most heavily on our collective conscience is simply this: What about the children

Nadja Halilbegovich and Natasha Saade know the wounds inflicted on children of conflict first hand. Both women were young when war broke out in their home countries — Nadja was twelve when the Bosnian War shocked the once peaceful Sarajevo, and Natasha was fourteen during the 2006 war in Lebanon.  

"I remember the first day that I realized something was terribly wrong," Nadja says. "I was all ready to go [to school] and I entered my family's living room only to find my parents in their pajamas, their faces long and worried… This was the beginning of something that, little did we know, would affect three and a half years of our lives." 

And Nadja does not simply carry the psychological wounds of war — she still has shrapnel in her leg from a bomb that went off just a few feet from where she was standing. "The 20th anniversary is coming up of that 18th of October that I was wounded, and I must say, no matter how much time passes, and no matter how well the wounds heal, the emotional and the mental scars are indelible. At my very, very essence, no matter how old I become, I'll be the wounded child of thirteen." 

Natasha was playing chess with her little sister when the first bombs fell in Lebanon. "I wasn't thinking about my future, I was thinking about the immediate danger at hand." She said to herself, "Oh God, please protect me, I don't want to die."

"You carry those pictures and those memories for life. You are scarred for life," Natasha says. "I'm trying to build my future." She is studying at a university now, and hopes to become an author and a professor. 

"I guess what happens is that… children, you know, they're so resourceful, and they manage, and they find ways to thrive and prosper, even amongst that trauma," Nadja says. "But the heartbreaking truth of being a war survivor — especially a child war survivor — is that that devastating trauma grips and terrifies long, long after the bombs have been silenced." 

"That's something that no child should go through, and that's what I'm thinking about when I hear about Syria" Nadja says. "Months and days are passing, just like they did in Sarajevo, and more and more children are losing their childhoods, their limbs, their lives."

It is difficult to imagine carrying on, even after surviving such tragedy. Nadja says, "It's almost a daily decision. Having gone through the war in Bosnia, and having seen so much ugliness, and having felt hatred on my own skin, having the scars staring at me every morning as I wake up." Still, she thinks it can be overcome. "We can decide to believe that there's so much goodness in the world as well, that we can focus on that goodness, that we can promote peace and tolerance through our knowledge of what war, what destruction, what intolerance does."

"Hope never dies," Nadja says. "That is the final, I think, and the main message. And if anyone keeps hope alive, I think it's the hearts — it's the hearts of children."

The diary that Nadja kept during the war was published under the title "My Childhood Under Fire." She continues to speak out about her experiences, and advocate for children of conflict everywhere.

Zainah Asfoor, a student at the University of Texas at Dallas, and her sister, Lina Asfoor, began the "Letters for Syria's Children" campaign, to show children in Syria that there are people around the world who stand in solidarity with them.

Lina and Zainah Asfoor reading their letters to Syrian children

Zainah Asfoor and her sister, Lina, began the "Letters for Syria's Children" campaign, to show children in Syria that there are people around the world who stand in solidarity with them.

Zainah Asfoor and her sister, Lina, began the "Letters for Syria's Children" campaign, to show children in Syria that there are people around the world who stand in solidarity with them.

Zainah Asfoor and her sister, Lina, began the "Letters for Syria's Children" campaign, to show children in Syria that there are people around the world who stand in solidarity with them.

Zainah Asfoor and her sister, Lina, began the "Letters for Syria's Children" campaign, to show children in Syria that there are people around the world who stand in solidarity with them.

Zainah Asfoor and her sister, Lina, began the "Letters for Syria's Children" campaign, to show children in Syria that there are people around the world who stand in solidarity with them.

Guests:

Nadja Halilbegovich and Natasha Saade

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Maggie Penman

Comments [7]

Pat O'Cleirigh from New York

Dear WNYC program management,

I regret that i am once again forced to point out how crass and inappropriate Mr. Hockenberry can be in positioning his comments and segments pieces.

This time it was the promo for the Growing Up in a War Zone segment. As he reads through the nature of the segment in his promo, "Life During Wartime" (Talking Heads) is playing in the background. Was this meant to be humorous? Was it meant to be clever? Does Mr. Hockenberry believe that children around the world that have experienced the horrors of real war, atrocities, rape, abuse and so on - does he believe that they "got" his really cool pop/aging alternative reference? We are talking about actual people, who's actual families, friends and neighbors may have been actually killed, and who are in all likelihood deeply traumatized by this real violence and horror - does Mr. Hockenberry understand that?

Incredibly insensitive. RIght up there with Mr. Hockenberry's comment about Stephen Hawking several years ago, when he remarked that he was challenged by the very same forces (gravity) which he was so famous for studying - or something like that. Seriously? That's the most informative and intelligent observation he can make about a man in possession of perhaps one of the greatest minds on the planet? How many hours of research went into that one?

What is wrong with Mr. Hockenberry that he is so compelled to treat the challenges and misfortunes of others with such crass insensitivity?

Please take him away - permanently, this time.

Very truly yours,

Patrick

Oct. 27 2012 12:31 AM
Nancy E. Brown from Rhode Island

Nadja and Natasha gave heartfelt and thoughtful 'advice' to the children of Syria. They acknowledge the danger these children cannot control, the sense of trust and security that is forever put asunder. They go further by encouraging the children to be children, to draw & paint, to write stories. Nadja and Natasha acknowledge these children's needs, unlike the two students from Dallas whose comments represent hackneyed religiosity. I note Nadja and Natasha do not mention prayers. Thank you for bringing these bright, courageous young women--Nadja and Natasha--to your program. The entire segment was well done.

Oct. 16 2012 11:13 AM
Roseanne Cleary from New York City

I am so moved by today's broadcast. Can you provide information as to where these "letters to Syria's children" can be mailed? There seems to be so little else one can do.
Thank you
RoseAnne Cleary

Oct. 15 2012 11:18 PM
Jill from Westchester County

Wow - These two young women are so articulate and so insightful. Wonderful segment - brought tears to my eyes.

Oct. 15 2012 03:23 PM
GwenEllyn

This was a powerful program.

Did I just hear an interview of two young women and continually refer to them as "you guys"!?

Don't tell me that it just means everyone. If his wife said, "I'm hanging out with the guys after work", it's unlikely he would think that was her gal pals.

Oct. 15 2012 01:44 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

My mother survived the Holocaust as a child in hiding. My Grandparents and three children hid for twenty months in a hole in a barnyard which was covered with the fake floor and hay.

In many ways, my mother is still that little girl struggling with the demons of darkness and fear of an enemy she never saw the face of and did not understand.

Children of war need comfort and I would just try to listen to them and ask them what their needs are and if they want to play a game. Only time to heal, love, and luck fixes people.

Oct. 15 2012 11:09 AM
Crystina Wyler from Miami, FL.,USA

Thank you for this segment! I just returned from visiting the Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. It's the faces and voices of the children I cannot leave behind now that I have returned home. It is so important that special focus be given to their immediate and long term needs. The wounds of war and violence as your guests have discussed live long after the bombs and bullets have stopped.
Crystina Wyler

Oct. 15 2012 10:42 AM

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