They defied a dictator in the daylight. More than 100 children took to their soccer field in Syria, holding red balloons that said, “I love you.”
It was April, a day after President Bashar-al-Assad launched a chemical attack in the same province. Images of lifeless children exposed the cruelties of an endless civil war, where the causalities only wanted to be loved and learn – far from the clouds and chaos of urban warfare.
The attack hit close to the Wisdom House, a school for orphans established by Washington resident Mouaz Moustafa.
“You see children that have no blood, that have no wounds, they look like peaceful little angles that are sleeping or are laying down,” Moustafa said in an interview.
“What I see when I see these kids, is something I cannot fathom.”
A week later, Moustafa's fears calmed. The United States sent tomahawk missiles into the skies of Syria, leaving Idlib quiet.
But Christmas morning, the familiar text messages from Syria returned.
“Can you hear the planes now?” reads the first message provided by Moustafa's non-profit, the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF). “Yes,” responds an English teacher at the Wisdom House.
Crying emoticons followed – the Assad airstrikes resumed. Pictures sent to America showed smoke rising across from familiar soccer fields. The Wisdom House was evacuated.
“Unfortunately the facts on the ground now are that Idlib is being invaded by the Assad army and his militias with the desire to arrest kill and displace the civilians,” said Natalie Larrison, Wisdom House Project manager.
“Our school bus is actually being used to evacuate families.”
Since September, Russia, Iran, and Turkey established a de-escalation zone in Northern Syria, including Idlib. Classes at the Wisdom House continued underground – a space offering relative safety, heat and electricity.
The school adjoins a women's center, also run by Moustafa and the Syrian Emergency Task Force.
Americans received a photo of one of the women who showed up at the center Christmas morning, as she sat smiling with her pink coat, and made a peace sign. The photo followed with a voice text message, with the woman saying she loved her friends in the United States.
“Our team from SETF, the ground in Syria, and the Wisdom House working group is having an emergency call this weekend to discuss the situation and how we plan to move forward with our work,” the group said in a statement.
“We will not give up on the hopes and dreams of the Wisdom House Project and supporting those who need us the most in Syria, and our focus now will be to rebuild or heal from this disturbance the best way we find.”
The non-profit asks for continued support as it provides food, shelter and blankets to those who are fleeing the renewed airstrikes.
Representatives from Wisdom House asked Americans to contact members of Congress, in order to request more assistance in the months and years ahead.