'Peace Means Everything. We Can't Live Without It.'
Picture via Twitter @AlabedBana
Bana al-Abed was just 7 years old when she captured the attention of the world as she tweeted about life under siege from war-torn Syria. Her Twitter account - which is managed by her English teacher mother - provided a shocking insight for the Western World into a country that was becoming increasingly more dangerous, and from where very few journalists had access to report.
“I’m afraid I will die tonight”, “Hello, we are alive”, and “my friend was killed I miss her so much,” are some of moving tweets that Bana shared at that time, as well as detailing the airstrikes and fears that her family lived with daily as they walked through rubble, or hid behind windows listening to bombs. Today, she lives in Turkey where her family have resettled after fleeing the violence. Her life may be very different now - JK Rowling personally sent her Harry Potter ebooks when she realised she couldn’t get hold of physical copies in Aleppo, and now Bana is a published author herself - but she won’t ever forget her previous life. Now 10, we caught up with her by telephone to hear her story.
Do you remember peaceful times in Syria?
I grew up in Aleppo, Syria and my childhood was very nice. My father is a lawyer and my mother was studying at the time. Sometimes I would go with my mother to university, and it made me so happy because I wanted to be like her. I grew up with lots of friends, playing outside together. But when the war started, everything changed. I couldn't contact my friends and we were displaced from my grandparents. I was unhappy.
Did the war make you feel cut off, and was having a phone your connection to the wider world?
When the war started and my grandparents went to another country I used Twitter and Facebook - it was the only way we could talk with each other. The war cut us off but having a phone was a miracle; I could speak with my grandparents, uncles, and friends. I was so happy because I could still contact them and hear their voices.
Why did you decide that Twitter was the best place to talk about the war?
Everyone was using Twitter, so everyone would hear my voice if I used it as well. I wanted to be heard all over the world. Children were dying, some of them were orphans, some of them didn't have anywhere to stay or sleep because all the buildings were being bombed. We couldn't go to school or go outside because they were bombing us every day. Even at night we couldn't sleep. We were afraid and stayed awake all night because if a bomb came we wanted to be ready so we wouldn't die. Unfortunately, many people did die. We were under siege. There was no food - we were hungry and thirsty. I used English on Twitter so I could tell the world what we were suffering.
Picture via Twitter @AlabedBana
Your mum is an English teacher - how did she help you with your tweets?
I was home-schooled and I was working hard because I wanted to be powerful. My mother was teaching me to speak English and I was so happy that I could learn another language. The whole world knows English, so that is how I could communicate.
You had a huge reaction and quickly had hundreds of thousands of followers - did that surprise you?
When I made the Twitter account, I was hoping that the world would listen and help. Help the children, that was my hope. We are children, we deserve to live in a peaceful country, and we need to go to school. I was amazed when many people followed me and believed in me. The followers were giving me hope and I was stronger every day.
Did it ever feel unsafe to use your phone and send out tweets?
I was using my phone near my house and it was dangerous because they could locate me. I was scared they would bomb my house and eventually they did. Our house was destroyed, but I wanted to tell the world they need to save children, so I don't regret it. I didn't want other children to live this life. It was an awful life. We need justice.
How did it feel when you knew you were finally leaving the country? And how is your life now?
I was so happy that I was going to leave my awful life and start a new one. But I was sad to leave my memories and my house. In Turkey I go to school, I go outside, I have many friends, I can sleep, I can laugh. I am not scared of anything.
How did it feel to be a published author by the age of 8?
I was so happy that I wrote a book at that age. Children are powerful, they can change the future if they’re given the chance.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be a teacher, like my mum. I want to teach children different languages. I speak three languages, and I love speaking English.
Why are you supporting #TOGETHERBAND?
Because peace makes everything strong. Peace means everything. It means life, power, and we can't live without it.
Support Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions with a #TOGETHERBAND. You'll receive one to wear and one to share with a friend to help spread the message about the Global Goals.