|© UNICEF Syria 2013/ Hala Darwish|
|UNICEF Emergency Advisor, Bastien Vigneau, talks to children displaced by the conflict, at a distribution site in Tartous where UNICEF partner handed out family hygiene kits.|
UNICEF Regional Emergency Adviser Bastien Vigneau recently discussed the situation in the port city of Tartous, Syrian Arab Republic, with a correspondent. Here, at a distribution site, he encounters a young girl with dreams of normal life.
By Bastien Vigneau
TARTOUS, Syrian Arab Republic, 14 February 2013 - During my recent mission to Tartous, where approximately 200,000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance, I went to assist with the distribution of family hygiene kits to affected families. Distribution was implemented by UNICEF’s local partner Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).
At the distribution site, I met Fatima*, 11, who lives in one of the many collective centres for internally displaced persons in the governorate. She was displaced five months ago from Aleppo with her mother because of the fighting.
Her life has completely changed, and she is still struggling to adapt to her new living conditions. The collective centre in which she’s staying is hosting about 50 families, or about 300 people, half of them children. The centre is an old public building that was not designed to accommodate this large number of families, with only one bathroom available on each floor.
“I miss my friends from school,” Fatima reminisced. “But I like the families here in the shelter. We all know each other, and I like them, they are nice to me.”
The building has no drinking water, so Fatima’s mother has to buy water from one of the close-by villages. There is no hot water, nor kitchen facility, in the shelter, but Fatima does not complain.
She says that she likes the colour of the sea in Tartous, which she saw for the first time when she came to the city, but what makes her sad is not being able to go to school. “I went to school when I first arrived here, but after three days I was rejected by the other children, and I got scared because they were violent with me. I don’t want to go back.”
‘Insecure and abandoned’
After speaking to some other children, I realized that they, too, had experienced the same stigma of being from ‘out of town’. The children’s reaction emphasized to me the division and turmoil the country is going through. When I asked Fatima what she does during the day, she answered that she plays the whole day with her friends, but only within the perimeter of their shelter, as they are afraid to be bullied by other children.
As Fatima ran towards the supply truck to receive the hygiene kit, her mother came to talk to me, asking UNICEF for clothes and more support to improve their living conditions. She said that they feel insecure and abandoned, and would like a school to be set up inside the premises of the centre so that her daughter can learn in a safe environment.
Bedding, clothes, support
Soon after, UNICEF, with its partner SARC, distributed warm quilts and winter clothes for children in this centre.
During January, UNICEF supported the distribution of 3,000 family hygiene kits, 4,000 quilts and 5,000 sets of children’s clothes for displaced people in Tartous.
In addition, we are discussing with the local education directorate and the municipality ways to increase access to education for displaced children. So far, about 30,000 displaced children are registered in schools in Tartous, according to the Director of Education in the governorate. New schools are being constructed by the municipality to cope with increasing demand, and UNICEF is distributing school bags to 5,000 displaced children.
We are also supporting 33 ‘school clubs’ in the area, in which 4,500 affected children receive remedial education and psychosocial support and participate in recreational activities. Parents and teachers have told us that children who participate in recreational and educational activities in the school clubs have shown great improvement, in terms of their overall well-being. In order to accommodate more children in this programme, we are planning to establish 15 more school clubs in the area.
After dropping the hygiene kit she just received in her room in the old building, Fatima came back outside to talk to us. “I wish to go back home so I will be safe and so that we will not need UNICEF or anyone to support us anymore,” she said. “I want all things to be fine again.”
*Name has been changed to protect her identity.
Crisis in Syria