Trying to help the Syrian children reared on war

Ahmad, 4, and his brother Mohammad, 14, were wounded when a shell hit their kitchen in Deraa Credit: ITV News

The children of Zaatari are a generation reared on war; at best displaced from their homes, at worst, they have witnessed terrifying brutality.

Abdullah, aged just 11, is one of thousands whose innocence has been sacrificed.

There are appalling images seared into his young mind; memories it is easier for him to paint than to talk about.

So he draws us a picture: A black tank advancing towards the bloody body of a baby, a warplane dropping bombs overhead, flames pouring from a burning building.

"This is what happened when the army came to slaughter us," he tells me.

His voice is matter-of-fact, it jars with what he says next: "Sometime I wake at night. I have nightmares. I dream they come back to cut off my head and drag me through the streets."

We are visiting a centre run by UNICEF and International Medical Corps.

The art that imitates terrifying life is one way therapists here try to repair these deeply damaged children.

Zaatari refugee camp seen from above Credit: UN/French Army/Michel Maure

But how do you help a boy who builds a missile launcher from Lego, modeled on what he has seen so often for real?

A few months ago, Ahmad saw his father shot and killed in front of him. He cannot bring himself to speak about what happened. Something inside him has broken.

"I’m telling you: I have no care for myself,’’ he says. "But if my brothers got hurt now, I couldn’t bear it."

Children drawing in an activity centre at the camp Credit: ITV News/ Lufti Abu-Aun

At the centre, the children can at least be children again. The boys play football, the girls form circles and sing traditional songs.

What is remarkable is their resilience. Often they cope better with their trauma than adults.

But the one thing they can never be taught is how to regain their lost innocence.

Watch John Ray's report on the children clinging to life at the camp here