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The war in Syria is taking a heavy toll on children. That's the finding of a study sponsored by UNESCO based on interviews with Syrian kids at a refugee camp in Turkey. Three out of four said they've lost someone they felt close to. Almost half suffer from clinical depression and about a third have post-traumatic stress disorder. As NPR's Deborah Amos reports, those statistics raise alarms about Syria's future.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: The bell rings at 8:00 a.m. at the Friendship Elementary School. Syrian kids in fresh school uniforms cram behind desks, more than 40 in every class. The Turkish government provided this school with a garden in the southern city of Gaziantep. Syrian parents and volunteer teachers run the school free of charge for 270 students, all of them refugees.
This third-grade class greets a visitor and shows what they've learned.
MANAL KHAMIS: How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: I am fine. Thank you.
KHAMIS: Sit down. Thank you.
AMOS: Manal Khamis teaches English here. These volunteer teachers use textbooks collected from Syrian schools destroyed or closed back home. It's the Syrian curriculum with some extras.
KHAMIS: Everything, Arabic, English, Turkish, everything. Art.
AMOS: The teachers offer a few hours of normal childhood for these kids, but the war in Syria has touched many young lives. Khamis recalls a boy who enrolled within days of fleeing the northern city of Aleppo after a bomb exploded in front of his house.
KHAMIS: He can't speak any word, okay, for three days. And no reaction, okay.
AMOS: And so the teachers encouraged this silent boy to draw.
KHAMIS: He drew only windows, closed windows and then he opened the window. Why, we don't know. We asked him about what do you mean about open window. He can't speak.
AMOS: Is he okay now?
KHAMIS: Not very good, okay. They are children and they can't endure this tragedy.
AMOS: Everyone is sad when they're forced to leave home, says Khamis, even as she comforts her students.
KHAMIS: Why sad, why? Why you are sad? My father? Oh, he will come back.
AMOS: The teachers were forced out, too. They're part of Aleppo's professional class. They bring specialized skills to this overcrowded school in Turkey. Manar Munal Hasan, a medical doctor, is now the school psychologist. She says she sees signs of trauma in the way the kids behave.
MANAR MUNAL HASAN: (through translator) They oftentimes get into fights and oftentime I call their parents to come and to solve what has happened. And even parents are surprised. They are saying, our children were not like this. They did not behave like that.
AMOS: Many children say they still don't feel safe, even here in southern Turkey.
YAMAN: My name is Yaman.
JULIE: My name is Julie.
JABBER: My name is Jabber.
AMOS: They are seven years old. They fled Aleppo with their parents. Families often send out the most vulnerable in the household. Yaman says her extended family stayed behind in Syria.
YAMAN: (Through translator) Because all my relatives and my grandparents are in Syria, I don't have anyone here to play with. Everyone is back home. They might die. Many things can happen.
AMOS: A new study warns that Syrian children could become a lost generation, the hidden casualty of the war. Researchers from Turkish, American and Norwegian universities interviewed more than 500 children in a refugee camp on the Turkish border. They've released preliminary findings at a news conference in Washington. Dr. Selcuk Sirin, a psychology professor at New York University, says the findings are disturbing.
SELCUK SIRIN: So we were talking about a very traumatized group. If we do not do our job as an international community of adults, these kids will go untreated with high levels of depression, high levels of PTSD. This will come back and haunt us in the future.
AMOS: The warnings about a haunting future can be heard clearly in this old apartment building in Antakya, in southern Turkey. It's another school for Syrian refugees. Here, 20-year-old Rahaf Tinowi works as a school counselor. She knows that Syrian children have been damaged by the war.
RAHAF TINOWI: All their dreams to kill Bashar.
AMOS: The president of Syria.
TINOWI: Yes, yes. Here, not all the families, but a lot of them always teaching his children, we have to kill them, to kill, kill, kill all the family of Bashar.
AMOS: But for children to think about killing is not something children should do.
TINOWI: Sure, sure. So that's our jobs. We have to change these views.
AMOS: It's a very hard job to change these views, she adds quietly, after all the loss and everything these children have seen. Deborah Amos, NPR News.
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