By Simon Ingram
RAMEH, Lebanon, 24 April 2012 – With a sigh, Siham* glances around the small room that is now home to her, her husband and their five children.
|April 2012: UNICEF correspondent Simon Ingram reports on a UNICEF programme helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Watch in RealPlayer|
“Everything is very difficult,” she says. “There are no clothes for the kids. Our daily routine is just this room or down in the yard, which is very noisy.”
The family’s home is actually a former classroom in what used to be a religious school in this remote town on the border between Lebanon and Syria. Rameh is one of a number of communities that have absorbed the influx of Syrian families fleeing the ongoing unrest in their homeland.
A difficult adjustment
There is a thin carpet on the floor but the stove in the corner is not lit and there’s nothing to dispel the cold mountain air. For Siham’s children, who range in ages from 1 to 15 years old, the only distraction is the bare concrete playground next to the mosque.
When the family arrived, the older children attended the local school. But they found the curriculum difficult to follow and soon stopped going. Now, the only classes they go to are weekly creative art sessions and other classes organized by a UNICEF-supported NGO in a nearby town.
Life may be difficult, but at least the family feels safe, and grateful for the rice, lentils and other basic supplies they receive from the UN and local NGOs.
|Siham [NAME CHANGED] sits with her family in the room where they now live in northern Lebanon.|
The room next door to Siham’s is occupied by Zainab*, her husband and their baby. Zainab left the southern Syrian city of Deraa as she was about to give birth to her daughter.
The infant needs medicine and so does her husband, who has a heart condition and cannot work.
“I am just surviving for the baby,” says Zainab.
Finding generosity in host communities
Another Syrian woman, Om Hashem*, is also struggling to make the best of difficult circumstances. Her family’s departure from Syria was a mix of risk, bravery and terror – a perilous night-time journey in which her 9-year-old, Shadi*, was badly injured by an explosion.
Shadi lies on a mattress, his face bearing the marks of shrapnel. His hands and feet are covered in bandages.
|Zainab [NAME CHANGED] sits with her infant daugher in a shelter in northern Lebanon.|
“He will recover,” says Om Hashem. “The landlord has been extremely kind. He treats me like every other member of his family, and we are not missing anything.”
It’s a story heard time and again in this border region, of local communities providing the Syrian refugees with shelter and basic supplies at little or no cost.
“The generosity of these communities – which are themselves very poor – is really remarkable,” says UNICEF Representative Annamaria Laurini. “And UNICEF, together with the international community, is helping those communities to mitigate the impact of the Syrian families that are now living with them.”
From the window of her home at the Islamic centre, Om Hashem can clearly see the mountains that mark the border with Syria. It’s a sight that stirs mixed emotions.
“When we think of our lives back in Syria, about our parents, our family and all we left behind, it’s hard not to shed a tear,” she says.
*Names changed to protect identities
Crisis in Syria