Wars are crowded with male faces, weapons and gruesome images. We know there are other things happening but we are struck anew when we are there on the ground to see for ourselves. In late January 2014, I had the chance to go inside Syria when a group of friends decided to visit liberated areas and deliver baby milk, winter clothes and some aid for local initiatives. More than 60 per cent of Syria is no longer under regime control, and these islands of vulnerable freedom are now called the liberated areas. What struck me first was the huge number of families, children and elderly people we encountered everywhere. Their faces are usually absent from war reporting. But their suffering is the reality of any conflict.

The first Syrians we came across at the edge of a small town north of Aleppo were two small children. The expressions on their faces hit us like bullets. Young faces but with ancient, sorrowful eyes. There, as the sun was setting, they were cycling around rubble and shelled buildings. What we didn’t realise then was that we were going to see the same vacant, distant expressions on the face of every child. I was always relieved when some kid during our journey broke into tears at the mention of a killed parent, sibling or relative. The tears would soften the faces of these already aged children.

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