By Meryem Goktas
AL-BAB, Syria (AA) - Forced to grow up without having the chance to live his childhood in peace, 14-year-old Muhammad Zaydawi provides for his family in war-torn Syria.
Muhammad was living in the city of Douma in northeast of Damascus before his family was forced to flee there as attacks increased.
"In Douma, we were studying and learning. My father was injured, and we were evacuated to Al-Bab [city]," he said, speaking to Anadolu Agency.
A close family friend who was also forced to migrate from Douma hired Muhammad at his garage to help him out.
"My father can't work, so I looked for a job. My father’s friend repairs vehicles. My father talked with him, so I started working there," he said.
"I leave the house at 9 in the morning and come back at 10 p.m. Sometimes I go home alone, sometimes my boss drops me off.”
While conflict, displacement and violence have become part of daily life in Syria, many children have been forced to assume the role of family provider.
- Shouldering a responsibility
"When I go out in the morning, I see boys of my age going to school with their schoolbags. I recall the times when I used to go to school, and I wish the war would end. I hope my father regains his health and I wish I could go back to school," he said.
Muhammad is the eldest of six children.
"I’m working to make money. I meet their needs if they have any. I’m aware that I carry a huge burden. Even though this burden is too heavy for me to carry as a child, I have to take care of them," he said.
- Effects of conflict
Recalling a memory he said he could not forget, Muhammad spoke about an airstrike he witnessed in his home city.
"There is a story that does not leave my mind. In Douma, there was a shop where I used to spend time. When a plane came, it struck. We got out and saw smoke. I thought it hit our home, but I found out that it struck our neighbors. My whole family ran to the neighbors’ [house] and we found an injured woman," he said.
Syria has been locked in a devastating conflict since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected severity. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 10 million displaced, according to UN figures, while children continue to bear the brunt of the conflict.
As the conflict continues, children are affected not only by what they witness, but also by the poor circumstances they are living in. Additionally, constant displacement in the country leads to irregularities in children's lives, which especially affects their access to education.
According to a UNICEF report in 2018, around 5.6 million Syrian children were affected by the ongoing conflict and over 2.1 million were out of school, while some of them have never seen the inside of a classroom.
"My dream is to grow up and become an engineer like my uncle. But because of these conditions, I could not study. We came here. I work for that man. I wish from Allah to learn this profession very well to be able to open my own shop," Muhammad said.