Toys, house keys and diaries hang suspended from the ceiling or sit on plain white pedestals at Sarajevo’s War Childhood Museum in a simple tribute to the children living in the shadow of the war in Syria.
Driven by memories of his own childhood during the Balkans conflict in the 1990s, founder Jasminko Halilovic has made the museum a treasure trove of personal items donated by those who were children then too. He now wants to turn it into the world’s biggest archive on wartime childhoods.
Sunday’s exhibition relied on items donated by children in Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon. According to UNICEF, there are 2.5 million Syrian refugee children living outside Syria and 2.6 million internally displaced.
“We want to show that war children are not only the passive victims, as we often see them, but also resilient survivors,” Halilovic said.
Having amassed more than 4,000 exhibits and over 150 hours of a video archive of oral history interviews, his team started collecting personal items from children affected by other wars, such as Syria, Ukraine and Afghanistan.
The Syrian collection was assembled with the help of Abed Moubayed, 35, from Aleppo, during his two-month internship with the museum, part of his master degree programme in post-war recovery at the University of York.
“This is a chance for the Syrian children to raise their voices and tell the whole world about their experience and suffering. It is really important to show that history is repeating itself and we, all of us, need to do something to stop it,” Moubayed, who left Syria in 2012, told Reuters.
“Syrian children have no idea what the future holds for them and you can see it from their stories.”
The Bosnian 1992-95 war, which claimed 100,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million people, was Europe’s bloodiest since World War Two.