Student’s powerful essay impresses judges

Grace Roodenrys was named the runner-up in the year 11/12 category. Picture: Mount Carmel Catholic College
Grace Roodenrys was named the runner-up in the year 11/12 category. Picture: Mount Carmel Catholic College

When Grace Roodenrys saw a Facebook video about the devastation in the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria she was shocked and horrified.

The images of loss and heartbreak stayed with the Mount Carmel Catholic College student long after the video ended and formed the inspiration for her entry in an essay-writing competition.

Grace’s essay, Aleppo Is a Place Where the Children Have Stopped Crying, was named runner-up in the year 11/12 category of the ‘What Matters?’ competition run by Western Sydney University and the Whitlam Institute.

She is one of just 16 students out of the 4000 from NSW, ACT and Tasmania who entered the competition to be selected by the judging panel.

The 16-year-old said she was shocked to be named runner-up.

“I never thought I would do this well,” she said.

“I thought the competition was a great opportunity to put my work out there on a platform that would actually be read by people, but I never thought I would be selected.”

Grace’s essay, which was limited to between 500 and 600 words, explored modern society’s tendency to move on from devastating humanitarian crises as soon as something more entertaining comes along.

She wrote about how the video of a young boy cradling his dead brother on the war-torn streets of Aleppo elicited “a sympathetic response in the online community for a brief time” before being forgotten.

“Inevitably the video ends, the scrolling through the newsfeed resumes and the subject of the national media shifts,” she wrote.

“But Aleppo is still there, stifled, forgotten, under the strata of the more recent and the more appealing stories.

“When it is not the bodies of your own family riddled with bullets, it is so easy to forget. But weeks later when the likes and the shares have slowed down and the trend has blown over, when Aleppo is the furthest from your mind, their suffering does not end.” 

The Bradbury resident believes the written word is a powerful tool of change.

She wants to use her own voice to inspire others and shine a light on the world’s darkest realities.

“Firstly I want to encourage other students to enter this competition in the future,” she said.

“I was the only person at my school who entered. I don’t think people value writing as much as they should.

“The youth are the voice of change and it is up to us to pave the way for progress.”

The year 11 student hopes to follow her passion into either journalism or non-commercial law.

Aleppo Is a Place Where the Children Have Stopped Crying 

Mahmoud is twelve years old. In his arm he clutches the quiet, sleeping body of his baby brother. Mahmoud is weeping. Wailing inconsolably, he cries out, “My brother, please… My brother…” as though pleading at the feet of God himself. Looking closer at the bundle enveloped in his arms, you realise the baby’s quiet is incongruent in this landscape of blood and decrepitude, you recognise the unmistakable desperation of grief in Mahmoud’s cries. The masses barely glance twice at the boy and his dead brother crouching among the wreckage, and his cries are lost in the chaos of the scene, because Mahmoud’s story is not unique here. His another life in ruins, one of thousands of the same. His brother is a statistical loss in a calculated game of power and wrath, one tiny body in a growing pile of Syria’s dead.

Slowly, the violent sobs that rack and seize Mahmoud’s frame, as though his small body cannot contain this much suffering, begin to subside. Streams of tears stain his face, clearing the layer of ash that lifted when the bombs hit before descending softly upon everything living or dead like a veil of mourning. But his eyes are absent, now, remote and detached as his stare pours into empty space with the simultaneous emptiness and all-knowing intensity of a black hole.

His is still, his eyes run dry.

This is Aleppo. The children have stopped crying, because there are no children left. Aleppo is home to what Syrian combatants name the “mother of battles”: a four-year conflict between the Assad government and Syrian rebels that has reduced most of the city to wasteland. Marked by rampant violence against civilians and repeated airstrikes of hospitals and schools, the battle of Aleppo has bred an estimated 31 000 deaths and an immeasurable number of lives uprooted, torn and dispossessed.

Months ago, a video went viral of the bleak and bloody result of a Syrian airstrike targeting a block of civilian apartments in Aleppo, the human aftermath of an inhuman deed to which stories like Mahmoud’s are only the backdrop. The video evoked a sympathetic response in the online community for a brief time. You may remember, yourself, watching it. You may recall the empathy that struck you. But you forgot, didn’t you? Inevitably, the video ends, the scrolling through the newsfeed resumes and the subject of national media shifts. But Aleppo is still there, stifled, forgotten, under the strata of the more recent and the more appealing stories. 

This is understandable, I promise you. When it is not the bodies of your own family riddled with bullets, it is so easy to forget. But weeks later when the likes and the shares have slowed down and the trend has blown over, when Aleppo is the furthest from your mind, their suffering does not end. I implore you to contemplate the prospect that in a world increasingly defined by instantaneous gratification, in a future dominated by the boundlessness of technological advancement, our humanity rests in a simple, unyielding decision to not forget. What matters is that we see Mahmoud’s suffering and refuse to let it slip quietly from our minds. Mahmoud is still curled up in the wreckage when the video ends. His brother is still quiet in his arms when the world has forgotten.

Aleppo is a place where the children have stopped crying.

Please, do not let the world be a place that does not care.