What happened to my country?" asked the young anonymous Syrian girl given voice by actress Mamie Gummer on the opening night of the fifth Women in the World symposium in New York.
The young girl is one of more than one million children who have fled Syria.
Syria formed the early fulcrum of WITW's opening evening, featuring first the words of the young girl, then the bravery of activists, and then Rt. Hon. David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, talking of the vast "humanitarian trauma" of a country, 80 percent of which is destroyed.
The crisis in Syria, said Miliband, represented a test of governments, non-governmental organizations like the IRC, and the public—tired and perhaps disengaged, "post-Iraq, post-the financial crisis." He said, "We can’t afford to turn away." Humanitarian organizations can only do so much, only "politics can stop the killing," said Miliband.
Gummer relayed the words of the Syrian girl, now living in exile in Lebanon, clearly and movingly, in "A Young Girl's War Journal."
The young girl recalled she was at school when it was bombed. “Some of the children were killed. We all ran away. I was running fast on an endless road. I was running back home, seeking with my siblings, protection in my mother's arms. When we saw the bombing of the school, we thought they bombed all schools, all over the world."
When the young girl got home, the bombings stopped for a while, she said. Her mother served lunch, the girl ate, drank a glass of water, then went to her room with a notebook and pen. She wanted to do her homework. Suddenly the bombings resumed. "I dropped both my pen and notebook. I hid under the table. I thought it might protect me."
But it couldn't and didn't. The young girl recalled that she left home, left her school bag, notebook, her pencils. "I didn't finish my homework. Little by little, home is fading away, as well as the pomegranate and lemon trees, and the jasmine bush in my garden. Our neighbor's house, my grandfather's house, my friend's house, all fading away. God, what happened to my country? Since that day, my exile started..."
Gummer—subbing for her flu-stricken mother, Meryl Streep, who will participate in the WITW summit later in the weekend—told the audience that this young girl had a name, though revealing it would place her and her family in danger. Tonight though, Oxfam had established a video link with her in Lebanon, "so she will be able to share this evening with us, and to witness her words expressed to an international audience half a world away."
Audibly moved, Gummer said she wanted to tell the young girl that "words matter. Your words matter. You are the young woman I am here for tonight."
Then Gummer read out the young girl's poem:
"When I take my pencil and notebook,
What shall I write about?
Shall I write about my school,
My house, or my land, of which I was deprived?
My school, when will I visit you again?
Take my bag and run to you?
My school is no longer there
Now, destruction is everywhere.
No more students
No more ringing bells
My school has turned into stones
Scattered here and there.
Shall I write about my house
That I no longer see
Where I can no longer be,
Shall I write about flowers
Which now smell of destruction?
Syria, my beloved country
Will I ever return back to you?
I had so many dreams
None of them will come true
All I want is to live in my country in freedom.
Syria, my beloved country, I love you."