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These Syrian child refugees work in the fields to support their displaced families

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    They are being called Syria's lost generation, the over one million children who fled the war to end up in refugee camps in neighboring Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.

    Marcia Biggs brings us this profile of two young girls in Lebanon, best friends forced to work in the fields to feed their families.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    It's dawn in the Bekaa Valley, near Lebanon's border with Syria.

    Like children all over the world, 12-year-old Iman (ph) and 14-year-old Bushra are waiting for their morning ride. But this truck won't take them to school. It will take them to a long day of backbreaking work.

    Iman and Bushra are from Raqqa, a town in Northern Syria now controlled by ISIS. They fled their homes two years ago when their village was destroyed. Here in Lebanon, they tell us their families have struggled to make ends meet, that their parents are too old to work. Local landowners often prefer to hire children, who are cheaper and have more energy, and the girls say they choose to work to save their parents the humiliation of having to ask for money.

    "I went to work," Iman says, "so we could pay the rent."

    "If they borrow money," Bushra says, "and somebody comes and talks about them the next day, we can't bear that."

    The U.N. estimates there are almost 300,000 Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon today not currently enrolled in school, having to work instead to support their families. These children in the potato fields today are the sole breadwinners in their families, earning as little as $4 a day.

    Yet Iman and Bushra are some of the lucky ones. A local organization has set up a school with afternoon shifts for working children.

    TATIANA KREIDY, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Beyond Association: The parents came to us and said, we cannot survive if our children don't go to work, so we need this work, we need this money, but we also need the education.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    Does it bother you that you're making it easier for them to go to work?

  • TATIANA KREIDY:

    Well, sure it bothers us. As a kid, he has the right to play, not go to work. To stop it, it's hard. They need this work to survive.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    By the time Iman and Bushra get to school in the afternoon, they are exhausted, but they say they desperately want to be there, if only for a couple of hours.

    What are your dreams?

    The girls are shy. It's not a question many people ask them.

    "Our dream is to go back to our country, to go back to the way it was, and not to be a burden," Iman tells us, "to have a break from work and the disdain on people's faces."

    What do you want to be when you grow up?

    "When I grow up, I want to be a doctor, so I can treat every person who is ill and not take any money," she says. "I would treat them for free. I want to help any countrymen."

    But that dream becomes more distant as the war in Syria rages on.

    And Bushra is not so optimistic.

    "In the future, my friends will become teachers and doctors," she says, "but I won't be able to be. That's my fate."

    Yet, here in this little tent, after a long day of work, it's a fate they continue to fight every day.

    Marcia Biggs, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Last week, the World Food Program stopped aid to over a million Syrian refugees after failing to raise operating funds for December. Since that time, $80 million has been raised, enough to keep the program through this month, but well short of what's needed for the coming year.

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