As I walk up the steps of the Capitol building today, I will be thinking of the children that I met on my trips to the liberated areas of Syria in 2012.
They contacted me on Skype and pleaded for help. There were only six insulin shots left in Al Bab, a suburb of Aleppo. Within three days of contacting Syrian-American doctors in the midwest, I had several large luggage bags full of donated medications and lots of insulin.
Without thinking twice, I traveled to southern Turkey, hoping to meet with friends and plan a way to get the supplies into Syria. With the help of Syrian revolution activists and citizen journalists, I was able to cross a minefield into Syria and sneak in the medication to underground clinics where children and civilians are treated.
As Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley’s guest to the State of the Union Address, I can’t help but hope that tonight President Obama mentions the Syrian children living under the constant threat of terror from ISIS, the Assad regime’s TNT barrel bombs, and daily airstrikes.
I remember sitting on the third floor of an old building in northern Syria with activists and journalists from Europe and the U.S. when nine-year-old Abodeh ran into the room screaming, “Tayarah! Tayarah!” (Arabic for airplane). With Assad's plane flying overhead, the journalists looked at me frantically in hopes for translation and some kind of direction, and I ran to the balcony to see what was taking place outside. I looked down from the third floor, and saw children running in different directions, crying and yelling as the barrels filled with TNT and metal pieces were thrown from the sky.
An activist came and dragged me down to the basement of the building to seek shelter from the shrapnel. Six barrel bombs hit several buildings away from where I was staying. A woman who was preparing tea in her kitchen died on the spot, along with other civilians who were not identified until later. As the smell of dynamite filled the city, I caught up with Abodeh, and asked him where he disappeared to after spying the plane. He said he climbed to the roof of the building to record everything from above with his beat-up video camera. It shocked me to see how brave he was, how accustomed he was to the daily bombing of his city.
The longer I stayed in the liberated areas, the more of a burden I became to activists, and so I decided to return to Turkey that evening after the airstrikes. As I was crossing back to the Turkish side, I got that sudden feeling that Syria is on a completely different planet. Children are living in constant threat of being bombed, sniped, or kidnapped by many different groups on the ground.
It’s not safe to be a child in Syria.
As I attend the most watched speech in the nation today, I hope for President Obama to shed some light on the current situation in Syria and urge the international community to act against Assad and ISIS. Syrian children are becoming refugees not because they want to, but rather because they are being forced to leave the country or to face death.
With all the negative rhetoric against Syrian refugees surrounding us today, I urge you to remember that Syrian children are no different than the kids in your neighborhoods. Abodeh deserves to go to school. To be on the soccer team. He shouldn't be running to his rooftop to watch airplanes bomb his home.
Alaa Basatneh is a human-rights activist and a writer at Fusion focusing on the Arab world. She is the protagonist of the 2013 documentary "#ChicagoGirl."