15-year-old Muhammad Najem from Eastern Ghouta (Twitter: @muhammadnajem20)
The Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, Syria is home to more than 350,000 people. Once renowned for its fertile soils and rich agricultural production, Eastern Ghouta is now better known for the Assad regime’s brutal Sarin attack in August 2013, killing more than 1,500 people, and for being home to the longest military siege in modern history. As of February 2018, Eastern Ghouta has been besieged by forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for four years and 10 months, a full year longer than the siege of Sarajevo.
During that time Eastern Ghouta has suffered from chemical weapons attacks and intense bombardment at the hands of pro-regime forces, with hundreds killed in the first few days of February alone. Amnesty International have condemned the Syrian government and its allies, saying that its ‘surrender or starve‘ policy amounts to a crime against humanity.
Half of Eastern Ghouta’s population are estimated to be children according to UNICEF. A recent survey of 27 locations in East Ghouta conducted in November 2017 has found that the proportion of children under five years old suffering from acute malnutrition was 11.9 per cent.
15-year-old Syrian boy Muhammad Najem inspects the damage at his school in Eastern Ghouta following regime bombardment. (Twitter @muhammadnajem20)
My name is Muhammad Najem and I am from eastern Ghouta in the Damascus countryside, I am 15-years-old I live here with my mother and siblings.
I am in eighth grade but I stopped studying three months ago because of the constant bombardment of the place in which I live.
My school was bombed by warplanes more than once but after each raid, we would return and try to complete our studies. But my school was bombed until it was completely destroyed and I no longer have a classroom within which to study or a playground to play in.
The other schools in Eastern Ghouta have also been targeted and destroyed.
I want to tell the world what is happening to us today and convey my suffering, which I live through every day because of the bombings and the siege.
I want to tell the truth and to tell people what is happening to us. We are besieged, we are hungry, we are under constant bombardment, we are exhausted from the displacement and the killing.
This war is not ending, but we are forced to grow up in these conditions and no one has done anything to protect and support the vulnerable here. Conferences and meetings and false peace talks fail while the Arabs and the rest of the world are still silent.
In this war we have already lost everything, and we are still losing more, every single day, every single one of us has lost something precious.
Losing my home and my father
I lost my house, which my father built with hard work and the sweat from his forehead. Then my father was killed two years ago after a shell landed on the mosque where he was praying.
Many of the children here have lost their fathers or their mothers, many of us have lost siblings and many of us have lost our homes.
We have been dismembered, we have lost parts of our bodies, our hands, our feet and our eyes.
The world will not be able to compensate us for anything that we lost. We have lost sight of the sky and the sun because of the war planes that fly over us day and night in order to bomb civilians.
Muhammad Najem studies by candlelight in the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta (Twitter: @muhammadnajem20)
The siege surrounds us. The specter of death and starvation hovers over us.
Last week the regime began to escalate its violent campaign against us. Planes indiscriminately drop bombs of hatred and destruction on us.
On Thursday, warplanes mounted yet more raids on residential buildings. Everyone went down to the cellars and we could hear the roar of the jets above us as we held each other’s hands.
muhammad najem @muhammadnajem20 One of my friends was killed and the other was injured. This is the picture of my friend Salim after leaving the hospital yesterday after the violent raids on his house near my house. I love you so much and wish you and all the children of the world peace and safety❤ #saveghouta
I was walking in the street with some of my friends, including my friend Salim who lives next door to us when we heard the sound of jets approaching. We fled to the cellar, but Salim ran to his home to hide with his family and uncle. He did not know that at that moment six missiles were on their way to his house.
Smoke and black dust
Smoke and black dust filled the cellar, choking us and filling the cellar with darkness. Children cried and the women screamed as they tried to check on their terrified children.
When the dust settled, we saw that Salim’s house was completely destroyed and the Civil Defense teams were attempting to rescue the people, including Salim and his family, trapped under the rubble.
After hours of searching through the rubble, I found out that Salim had miraculously survived. But his younger sister had died, his mother suffered life-changing injuries and his younger brother is still missing. Salim’s little cousins Mohammed, Majid and Raghad were also killed in the air strike.
I find it hard to believe the life we are witnessing here in Ghouta. Today I am reassured at least because Salim has left the hospital, but he is unable to move because of his injury. We do not know what tomorrow will bring.
Yeonmi was speaking at the One Young World Summit 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. The Summit brought together 1,300 young leaders with 194 countries represented to debate and devise solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
North Korea, otherwise known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a unique nation for all the wrong reasons. It is easily the most backward, isolated country on the planet.
Because of this isolation, information about the nature of the country, and the regime in power, is scarce and often not widely known.
But North Korea is a small, belligerent nation with the capability to cause real harm to the country’s around it, even the United States. These are 10 things you should know about the rogue state of North Korea.
1. Without oil, they’ve turned to wood-powered cars.
One of the ways in which North Korea is unique is that it gives us a look at what a future without oil might look like under the worst possible scenario.
The reclusive nation, whose only trading partner is China, functions almost entirely without gasoline and petroleum products, which has forced them to improvise.
Vehicles have been retrofitted to run on what they refer to as “wood gas,” carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas that’s produced from wood or coal.
Of course, using wood as fuel for cars is an ecological disaster that ruins air quality in cities and dumps immense amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere.
Wood gas engines were invented in 1839 and were used through WWII, when near the end of the war, Germany turned to powering more than 500,000 vehicles with the gas.
2. The country’s widespread poverty is even visible from space.
North Korea’s economy is strictly centrally planned. Some reforms have occurred since 2015 but for the most part, it is still an incredibly rigid, command economy.
There is very little data about the country’s economy, but it’s likely that North Korea has the weakest economy on Earth.
The average GDP per capita in North Korea is $1,800, making it 197th in the world. The GDP is 18 times higher in South Korea and 28 times higher in the United States.
Half of the nation’s 24 million citizens live in extreme poverty, according to the KUNI report, and a third of children have stunted growth due to malnutrition.
North Korea’s life expectancy is only 69 years old and has been in decline since 1980. Most homes are heated with fire places where citizens burn whatever they can find for heat to survive the bitingly cold North Korean winters.
Electricity is unreliable, as should be obvious from the image above. Most homes receive just a few hours of electricity a day, if any at all.
3. North Korea has no laws regarding Marijuana.
I hesitate to say that marijuana is legal in North Korea, but it’s also not criminalized in any way.
Cannabis appears to be sold pretty freely in the nation with one 29-year-old freelance writer from England recounting a story of how he purchased an entire bag of weed from an indoor market in a rural town in North Korea and smoked it in restaurants, bars, and in parks.
According to an anonymous source, Kim Jong Un’s regime doesn’t see marijuana as a drug and therefore doesn’t see any reason to interfere with it.
It’s possible, though unconfirmed, that marijuana consumption is encouraged as an alternative to tobacco, a luxury most North Koreans cannot afford.
4. North Korea operates concentration camps.
People are well aware of the concentration camps from World War II, where Germany imprisoned and murdered millions of “undesirable” people, and even the United States used to intern Japanese-American citizens during the war in the Pacific. While many of us may think that concentration camps are a horrid relic of an age passed, they’re alive and well in North Korea.
It is believed that up to 200,000 North Koreans reside in prison camps, arrested because of supposed political crimes. If one person commits a political crime, their entire family is interned.
If they escape, often their entire families are killed. 40% of the prisoners interned at these concentration camps die of malnutrition. Many are sentenced to “hard labor” for a seemingly reasonable length of time but are then promptly worked to death.
5. Children must attend school, but at a cost.
Children in North Korea are mandated to attend school, similar to in the United States. But unlike in the U.S., North Korea’s school children are required to bring their own desks and chairs and are required to give up money to pay for heat. Some parents keep their kids out of school by bribing teachers to not report them.
6. It’s the year 105 in North Korea.
In North Korea, their calendars are not based on what the rest of the world uses. Instead of it being 2017, it is the year 105 inside their borders. Why? Their calendar is based on the date of their dear revolutionary leader Kim Il-Sung’s birth: April 15, 1912.
7. North Korea holds elections.
While North Korea does hold elections, they aren’t exactly free elections. Each election gives you once choice, and I’ll give you 1 chance to guess who the choice is. When the votes are tallied, 100% of the votes cast are cast for their dear leader.
8. North Korea will punish you for three generations.
If you are born in North Korea and your grandfather committed a crime, you’re on the hook for that crime too. When someone commits a crime, their whole family is held responsible for it.
Grandparents, parents, and children can wind up in prison work camps because of the infractions of one individual. They call this their “3 generations of punishment rule.”
9. Kim Il-Sung is their only true leader.
While Kim Il-Sung, their first leader since the communist revolution, is long dead, he is still considered the leader of the country.
It’s why his son, and now grandson, were able to so easily take the reins of leadership when the former dies. While the heirs have the reins, Kim Il-Sung will forever have the heart of the DPRK.
10. The newest leader, Kim Jong Un, is an eccentric, brutal dictator.
When he assumed power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, it was hoped that Kim, much younger than previous leaders as well as educated in Europe, would bring about reforms. This has not proven to be case. Kim is just as bent on preserving his power as his father and grandfather were.
The list of eccentricities is long. Among them, he’s the only “general” in the world with no military experience, he got plastic surgery to look more like his grandfather, he has issued the execution of people via mortar rounds, is obsessed with Michael Jordan, had his uncle “obliterated” for supposed crimes against the state, and even executed his ex-girlfriend.
For North Korea, it’s hard to see a way out of the vile, kleptocratic dictatorship they’re forced to live under. Kim Jong Un is leader for life, and there’s no sign that he will instigate reforms. For the millions of starving, impoverished people in the DPRK, we can only pray.
Children suffer from malnutrition in Eastern Al-Ghouta due to siege imposed by the Assad regime. They are in need for children milk, foods, and medicines. Also, pregnant women, infants and breast feeding women are suffering. Infant are born in a bad condition with low weight. In many cases, some of them died.
We call all the world and International organizations to help Syrian children.
The Unified Medical office in Eastern AL-Ghouta # Al-Marj District
We are talking to the people of your country, not the government. the people to see how we are living. The children of Syria are dying! Put yourselves in our shoes. We are humans. We respect humanity. We respect humans.
We are talking to the citizens, to the people. how everyone, especially mothers, feel when their children sleep healthy and full of food, while our children are hungry or sick. How do you feel about that? The father when he goes to sleep feeling desperate because he cannot afford to feed his children, while the child in your country sleeps full.
We are people. We are dying because of hunger. We are dying for lack of healthcare. Just empathise with us as humans. We have nothing to do with the war – we do not like war. We respect humanity in all the regions of the world. We are talking to you, asking you for help, as humans. no more. no less.
In January, President Obama signed the North Korean Child Welfare Act of 2012, which instructs the U.S. State Department to “advocate for the best interests of these children” — including helping to reunite families and facilitate adoptions.
Many of the children are orphans; their parents victims of starvation or the gulag.
These homeless, abandoned North Korean orphans were both conspicuous and invisible in a community used to such sights. They are living on the streets, nearly freezing to death in the winters. With a chronic glower of hunger, they trolled the streets in gangs like rats. They scavenged, begged, plucking grass for food and pitted gang wars over tossed chicken bones. Whatever scraps they collected, they boiled into watery porridge.
Humanity is dead! Civilization is Dead! Conscious is Dead! Syrian children are besieged, bereaved, displaced, bombed, sniped, massacred, detained, tortured, raped, mutilated, starved by Assad Regime for almost 4 years… World remains silence.
Under international law, siege is not specifically prohibited. However, deliberate starvation in a conflict is widely held to be a war crime and the law of armed conflict requires all sides to allow free access of humanitarian relief for civilians in need.
“The world must act to save a generation of traumatized, isolated and suffering Syrian children from catastrophe.”
Save the Children released “A Devastating Toll: The impact of three years of war on Syria’s children” in March. It said at least 1.2 million children have fled to neighboring countries, 4.3 million children in Syria need humanitarian help, and that more than 10,000 children have died.
“What is most disturbing about the findings of this report is not only the sheer numbers of children killed in this conflict, but the way they are being killed.”
Some 71% of children were killed by explosives, while around 25% were killed by small arms fire. The report found that 764 children were executed, with 112 tortured, including some infants. Boys were killed twice as often as girls. Children in Daraa and Aleppo were among the worst-affected.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said: ‘Syrian forces are committing war crimes by using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war.’
“Today I have eaten nothing. Yesterday I had a small bowl of rice. We are down to one small meal per day.” There is no food. We had five roads out of here but the regime closed them with sniper and tanks.”
“If you are a mother who loses a child to a bullet, not to sarin gas, your grief is as deep and profound as those who have faced the most horrible of weapons. We cannot close our eyes to that,”
North Korea’s starvation politics reinforce state power and enable regime survival. Simply stated, those who are favorable before the state are more likely to receive food, to receive life. As the state controls food production, management, distribution, and aid receipt, Kim Jong Il’s regime essentially determines who will live and who will die.
From 1994 to 1998, independent analysis estimates between 2-3 million people died due to starvation, disease, or sickness caused by lack of food.