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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Women heads of household struggle to support and protect family, in crisis-torn Syrian Arab Republic

UNICEF Communication Specialist Iman Morooka recently met mothers and children in Homs city who have been affected by conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic. She also visited UNICEF-supported activities and talked with partners and humanitarian workers on the ground.

By Iman Morooka

HOMS, Syrian Arab Republic, 27 February 2013 – You don’t have to drive too far to see signs of destruction and devastation. The thundering sound of shelling is part of everyday life here. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have had to flee their homes from many parts of Homs in search of safety.

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2013/Morooka
This school building in Homs city has been severely damaged by the heavy fighting in the Syrian Arab Republic.

Loss, and community

In collective shelters for displaced families, in quieter parts of the city, I witnessed grief over life that had been lost. I met families who had lost their belongings and a more dignified life. Many displaced families have to share rooms in old public buildings and schools with other families, in a space divided only by hanging blankets and clothes, often lacking basic services such as hot water and showers.

But I also saw resilience and a strong sense of community. Children play and laugh in the corridors and courtyards of the shelters, seemingly happy and content. As I spoke with some of them, they mentioned how much they miss their homes and their old friends, whose whereabouts are unknown to them.

One girl said that what she misses most is her little turtle, which she had to leave behind. A 12-year-old boy said he misses his home, where he didn’t have to endure humiliation.

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2013/Morooka
Kindergarten class is held in Homs. The classes educate children whose schooling has been interrupted because of displacement or overcrowding of public schools. Classes run in four shifts every day to provide children aged 4-12 with lessons in Arabic and maths, as well as recreational activities.

Homecoming, and new challenges

At a UNICEF-supported charity organization, I met Um Ahmed*, making her monthly visit, with two of her children in tow. The organization dedicates two days every week to helping families who have lost their breadwinner, mainly because of the conflict, by providing both financial and in-kind support, including medical supplies, non-food items and clothes. UNICEF has provided family hygiene kits and blankets to this organization to distribute to affected families. 

Um Ahmed lives in a neighbourhood in which heavy fighting has caused large-scale destruction and displacement. Both her husband and eldest son have been killed. She recently returned to her home with her four surviving children, after having been displaced.
Her only source of assistance is a local NGO: She survives on 7800 lira (about US$110) every month, in addition to hand-outs.

The family lives in one room of their severely damaged house. The roof leaks when it rains.

“Life is very difficult because prices are so high,” says Um Ahmed. “Bread, for instance, is very expensive, and to get subsidized bread, you have to stand in a long queue. Vegetables, milk, eggs, sugar and fuel are a luxury we can’t afford.”

© UNICEF Syrian Arab Republic/2013/Morooka
Families and children in a shelter for displaced persons in Homs city receive sachets of ready-to-use supplementary food provided by UNICEF and distributed by local partners to prevent malnutrition.

Fear, and education

“We are mainly confined to our home,” Um Ahmed continues. “My children don’t go out of the house except to go to school. Whenever the fighting starts, I go to take them out early to bring them home. My children are afraid all the time.”

Another woman I spoke to said that she is afraid for the safety of her son, who is 16 years old, whenever he goes out to attend school. “I am scared he would be kidnapped or be taken at checkpoints, but he is excelling in school, so I have to let him go out. I want him to receive higher education, too,” she said.  

Um Ahmed talked about the challenges faced by her family: “If my children get sick at night, or on a Friday, there is nowhere I can take them. We don’t feel safe where we live. There have been increased cases of looting and other crimes. At night, I jam the door closed with wood because we are afraid of men coming in.”

There are far too many families who have been deprived of their past and endure a cruel present. Yet, amidst all this devastation, what strikes me – and what gives me hope – is the determination of parents and communities to make sure their children receive education, despite the risks.

*Name has been changed.



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