The incredible strength and resilience of a Syrian mother

Overcoming injury, displacement and financial hardship with strength and support from UNICEF

Sandra Awad and Yasmine Saker
A mother helping a child with his shoes
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Belal
27 April 2020

Damascus, Syria, 20 April 2020 - Seven years ago, Haifa along with 50 members of her extended family, fled escalating violence in Erbin, rural Damascus, to a farm in the suburbs, where they had hoped to be safe.

“I remember gathering around a fire with the other women, making tea, when the sounds of bombing got closer,” recalls Haifa, “My gut feeling told me to carry my son indoors and just as I did a shell hit the exact area where he was playing.” Haifa was 6 months pregnant at the time. Many of Haifa’s relatives were killed that day while she and her son Anwar were severely injured.

Haifa and Anwar were rushed to a hospital in a nearby town, Kafar Batna. In one room, doctors were trying to save Anwar’s life; he had shrapnel all over his body; his pelvic bone was broken; and his aortic artery cut. In the other room, doctors prepped Haifa for surgery.

three children
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Belal

“When I told the doctors I was pregnant, they assumed the fetus was dead because of all the shrapnel to my abdomen,” recalls Haifa. “When she kicked, we all started crying,”.

Today 31-year-old Haifa is back in Erbin. Living in a one room structure on a rooftop of a building with her husband and three children; Anwar, 9, Nada, 6, and Mohammad, 3.

The room is very sparsely furnished, with old carpets barely covering half of the freezing cement floor of the room they call home. In the centre of the room is a small wood oven, their only means of warmth during the harsh winter. The children go everyday on a scavenger hunt looking for rags or pieces of plastic they can burn for warmth, despite the resulting poisonous fumes.

three children
UNICEF/Syria/2020/Belal

For many years after the incident, Haifa and her family were still living under siege in East Ghouta.

“I will never forget the days my children would ask me for food while I had absolutely nothing to give them,” adds Haifa who sometimes had to cook grass as a meal for her family. “For years, we did not know the feeling of being full, we ate the bare minimum to survive,”.  

Haifa’s children also carried the brunt of a war not of their choosing; Nada suffered stunting due to the lack of nutritious food she received; while her youngest, Mohammad, fell when he was only 6 months old when a shell hit their house, causing him a level of brain damage and paralyzing the left half of his body.

“I wake up every morning thankful for having survived everything I have been through. I believe that tomorrow will be better”

Haifa

Despite everything she has been through, Haifa paints a strong and hopeful smile on her face and continues to care for her family, hoping to help them make a better future for themselves.

“I wake up every morning thankful for having survived everything I have been through. I believe that tomorrow will be better”.

During the past winter season, UNICEF supported over 4,800 children, including Haifa’s, with cash assistance meant to help families provide their children with warm winter clothes and ease their financial burdens.