Syrian Children Facing 'Toxic Stress'
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Six years of war in Syria have taken a severe toll on that country's children. The aid group Save the Children has been looking into the mental health of young Syrians. Its findings are alarming, but helping those children has been a difficult task as the lines of conflict shift, and access is limited. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Toxic stress - that's how Sonia Khush, the Syria director of Save the Children, describes what many young Syrians are facing these days.
SONIA KHUSH: So a lot of the children reported headaches and stomachaches and short-term amnesia. There's an increase in stuttering, lots of nightmares, and so that was one very common effect across all children.
KELEMEN: Her aid group interviewed 450 children in parts of Syria that have seen repeated bombing raids by Russian and Syrian warplanes. They've heard similar concerns from health workers in government-controlled areas and from families who fled ISIS.
KHUSH: There was one little boy whose family was forced to witness a public beheading, and now his father says that he cannot sleep at night. He just has nightmares all the time that somebody's coming to kill him.
KELEMEN: Aid access has never been easy in Syria. Save the Children works with local groups, including one run by Rola (ph), who asked that we not use her last name for security reasons. She says teachers and schools have had to move repeatedly as families are displaced by fighting. Aid workers have been arrested, accused of siding with terrorists. It's risky work.
ROLA: We lost children. We lost teachers. We lost guards. We lost drivers. And, of course, we lost staff - our colleagues inside Syria.
KELEMEN: The aid workers were recently making the rounds in Washington at a time when the Trump administration is considering major cuts to the Foreign Affairs budget. No one has been named to head the U.S. Agency for International Development, so it's a time of unease while the needs are great, says Rola, who worries about Syria's future generation.
ROLA: We have to move now, and we have to really now before it is too late to focus our programs on that.
KELEMEN: She says children are resilient, but aid groups need to pay attention to their mental health. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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