Syrian mother Adira*, 30, arrived in Turkey only five months ago, with her husband and two young children - Abbas*,7, and Aya*, 5.Abbas* suffers from cerebral atrophy and violent epileptic seizures. He is unable to walk or talk, and requires round the clock care.The family originally fled their home when ISIS invaded in 2015. Adira* wanted to travel to a nearby city so she could continue working as a teacher, and Abbas* could get the treatment he needs. But they couldn't get past ISIS checkpoints, and so they headed towards Jordan instead.The family lived by the border in a camp for four months – praying for medical evacuation for Abbas*. Then a suicide bomber struck the camp, and everything deteriorated. From the Jordanian border they travelled all the way to Turkey. The journey took 21 days, covering hundreds of kilometres. Adira* and her husband had to carry Abbas* every step of the way. What little money they had went to pay smugglers.They now live in Turkey and Adira* is desperate to get Abbas* the medical treatment he needs.Save the Children has provided the family with basic needs such as mattresses, blankets, high nutrition food baskets, and transportation to hospital.Until now, the family has not been able to obtain Temporary Protection registration, which has meant that they have not been able to access a broad range of services from health to education. Save the Children is now assisting them in getting registered with the relevant Turkish authorities.
Syrian mother Adira*, 30 with son Abbas*, who suffers from cerebral atrophy and violent epileptic seizures. They arrived in Turkey five months ago after fleeing ISIS in 2015.Nick Ballon and Alma Haser—Save the Children
Syrian mother Adira*, 30, arrived in Turkey only five months ago, with her husband and two young children - Abbas*,7, and Aya*, 5.Abbas* suffers from cerebral atrophy and violent epileptic seizures. He is unable to walk or talk, and requires round the clock care.The family originally fled their home when ISIS invaded in 2015. Adira* wanted to travel to a nearby city so she could continue working as a teacher, and Abbas* could get the treatment he needs. But they couldn't get past ISIS checkpoints, and so they headed towards Jordan instead.The family lived by the border in a camp for four months – praying for medical evacuation for Abbas*. Then a suicide bomber struck the camp, and everything deteriorated. From the Jordanian border they travelled all the way to Turkey. The journey took 21 days, covering hundreds of kilometres. Adira* and her husband had to carry Abbas* every step of the way. What little money they had went to pay smugglers.They now live in Turkey and Adira* is desperate to get Abbas* the medical treatment he needs.Save the Children has provided the family with basic needs such as mattresses, blankets, high nutrition food baskets, and transportation to hospital.Until now, the family has not been able to obtain Temporary Protection registration, which has meant that they have not been able to access a broad range of services from health to education. Save the Children is now assisting them in getting registered with the relevant Turkish authorities.
Ahmed* is nine years old. His father died during shelling when he was seven and the corpse was brought back to the family's home. Ahmed* and his sisters didn’t talk for several days after seeing it.The family moved to another village, but they had to flee after a heavy bombardment.During one attack, Ahmed* became separated from his mother and one of his sisters. Whilst his mother crossed into Turkey, Ahmed* and his sister ended up following a relative to Raqqa, in ISIS-held territory.Ahmed* saw several beheadings in ISIS areas. He saw dead bodies, heads on spikes, lashing and several other violent incidents. When he was reunited with his mother in Turkey he was stammering so badly that she had difficulty understanding him. He was wetting himself, had trouble sleeping, and would lash out at his family - beating his sisters and even his mother.After almost one year living in a residential centre for mothers and children in Turkey near the Syrian border, his mental health has improved.Save the Children’s partner Shafak provides psychological support to Ahmed* and other children living in the centre.
Hassan* is nine years old. When he was six, fighters stormed his house. Terrified, Hassan* hung onto his father’s leg, but the men shot his father dead at blank range.During that winter, the rest of the family moved to a village. As they attempted to fill a stove with unrefined gasoline, Adel’s mother and sister both caught fire in front of him. His mother survived, but suffered such serious burns that Hassan* couldn’t recognize her for some time afterwards. His sister died the same day.It took Hassan* and his mother about eight more months to make it out of Syria and into Turkey.Hassan* suffered so many psychological shocks in Syria that he became introverted and refused to talk to people. He did not trust anyone, and became very violent, especially towards his mother.Hassan* now lives at a residential centre for children and mothers near the Syrian border in Turkey, where he receives counselling provided by Shafak – one of Save the Children’s partners.
Mohammed* is eight years old. When he was five, his father was killed by a sniper. Mohammed* and his siblings saw the body in their local mosque but as his sister became hysterical, Mohammed* showed no reaction. Following this episode, he became very introverted, developed a stammer, and started bed-wetting.Since fleeing to Turkey, Mohammed* has displayed aggressive and sadistic behaviour towards animals and people on a number of occasions. He’s been known to attack his brother and mother, and on one occasion he threw a kitten from the fifth floor of a building, killing it.Mohammed* now lives at a residential centre for children in Turkey, near the Syrian border.One of Save the Children's partners, Shafak, helps provide counselling to Mohammed* and the other children living there.
Nesreen* is nine years old and has five siblings. She and her family fled from Idleb to Turkey only three months ago. The month before they left, the family witnessed people killed in airstrikes. The bombardment felt continuous and the children were unable to sleep. Many of their friends and cousins died in explosions.During their journey to Turkey, they were shot at, and a 4 year-old child whose family they were travelling with was hit in the head. He died in his father’s arms, right in front of them.Despite the traumatising events they've been through, Nesreen* and her siblings are extremely resilient and have already shown signs of psychological recovery now they are in Turkey. She is full of hope for the future.Save the Children has provided the family with initial basic supplies (NFIs, high nutrition food baskets, etc) and is also helping them obtain their Temporary Protection registration from relevant Turkish authorities, thus strengthening their resilience by informing them of their rights and access to services such as healthcare and education.
Razan* is seven years old. When the war broke out, she had one brother and six sisters, including Aya* – one year younger – who she was very close to. The two small girls were adored by their father, who took them for rides on his motorbike and showered them with gifts.But one year into the war, Razan’s* father was killed by a sniper bullet. After seeing his corpse at the mosque, Razan* stopped speaking and became very withdrawn.The family fled their home following a bombardment, only to be displaced more than ten times in the same city. Eventually, they ended up staying with relatives in a village – but one day, the house they were staying in was bombed. Whilst Razan* was pulled from the wreckage of the home alive, her mother and younger sister didn’t survive. Taken to the field hospital immediately after the attack, Razan* also bore witness to the emergency wards filled with corpses, severe injuries, amputations and blood.The psychological impact of these events on Razan* has been huge. After her father’s death she showed signs of trauma. She became terrified of blood, and panicked when she saw people crying. Then after losing her mother and sister, Razan* became aggressive towards the elder sister who was looking after her, and began to suffer incontinence and bed-wetting. She also started hallucinating, lost many cognitive abilities, and began to have trouble differentiating between fact and fiction.Razan* now lives at a residential centre for children in Turkey, near the Syrian border.One of Save the Children's partners, Shafak, helps provide counselling to Razan* and the other children living there.
Syrian mother Adira*, 30 with son Abbas*, who suffers from cerebral atrophy and violent epileptic seizures. They arrived
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Nick Ballon and Alma Haser—Save the Children
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The Invisible Wounds of Syria's Children

Mar 12, 2017

The physical devastation left by the Syrian war is tangible. But a less visible, more insidious damage is hurting the country’s most vulnerable.

Save the Children’s ‘Invisible Wounds’ report found that Syria’s children are suffering from a condition called ‘toxic stress’, due to living in an almost constant state of fear and terror. In order to visualize the invisible, the NGO commissioned photographer Nick Ballon and conceptual artist Alma Haser to create a series of animated portraits and short videos. Ballon’s thoughtful photos combined with Haser’s paper manipulation techniques – folding, crumpling, ripping and origami – attempt to show the intense psychological pain these children suffer.

Ballon shot the portraits of the refugee children near the Turkish-Syrian border. He got to know them at their orphanage, in a place where they felt comfortable, but shot the portraits on the streets. “The lighting was the key element,” he says.

When they left the familiarity of the orphanage, Ballon was struck by the distinct difference in the children’s behavior. “They would be fooling around with the other children and playing,” he says. “But when they left that environment they became more introverted. There was definitely this internal thing going on inside them, which made them look a lot more adult-like than the kids that they actually are. They've obviously seen and been through an awful lot.” Ballon hopes the portraits quietly portray this internal angst.

The second part of the creative process involved Haser, based back in the U.K. Though she didn't meet the children, their words combined with Ballon's portraits served as powerful inspiration. Just as each narrative is unique, each animation required a different approach and technique. “I wanted to open up their story. The impact is all emotional but I wanted to bring that to life in a physical way,” she says.

One boy, Ahmed, witnessed people being decapitated and since then he has become violent. “I created these layers of ripped paper to show his anger. It's like layers and layers of himself being ripped away,” she says. “I just repeated it because they're seeing the same thing over and over. It’s just their everyday life now which is quite scary really.”

While all the children featured in the project have suffered unimaginable hardships and witnessed extreme violence, Ballon believes there is still hope. “What struck me is their resilience. They've never met you before but they would put their arms out and just want to be picked up and hugged,” he says. “They still have the capacity to love.”

Save the Children is a non-governmental organization that promotes children's rights, provides relief and helps support children in developing countries. Nick Ballon is a documentary and portrait photographer based in London. Alma Haser is a conceptual artist and photographer based in London and the East Coast.

Alexandra Genova is a writer and contributor for TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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