A mother’s strength; the story of Fullah from Afrin, Syria

As a Syrian woman, I cannot be more in awe of the women of my country, who have borne the brunt of war for almost eight years now, trying to survive and protect their families.

Esraa Al-Khalaf
Two women in a car
UNICEF/Syria/2018/Rami Nader
10 December 2018

Esraa, 35, is a Health and Nutrition Officer with UNICEF in Aleppo, Syria. Prior to the conflict, Esraa ran a small pediatric clinic where she received and treated thousands of children. Like many people across Syria, Esraa lost her clinic, work and home. Since then, she devoted herself to serving children and their families.

I will never forget the day I met Fullah.

It was an unusually hot day in May and I was on a visit to Nubbul, a town in northern rural Aleppo, to assess the humanitarian situation of pregnant and nursing women displaced from Afrin.

Only months earlier, a pregnant Fullah and her husband were forced to flee as violence escalated, along with 132,000 people, to bordering towns and villages. The expecting couple sought safety in a mosque-turned-shelter, housing displaced families in Nubbul.

I was shocked when I learned that she was only 29. She was so thin with a pale face full of wrinkles and prominent bone structures. She was six years younger than me but looked so much older.

When I met her, Fullah was seven-months pregnant with her first baby. I rushed to measure her middle-upper-arm circumference (MUAC) and found that she had severe acute malnutrition; She weighed 47 kilos and her MUAC measured at 18.4 cm while the minimum average is at 23.

Even before she was displaced, Fullah had suffered a lot. To help her family put bread on the table, Fulla had to work 12-hour shifts farming in fields, under the scorching sun.

“I would go home at the end of the day and cook whatever was available, sometimes only some rice or potatoes,” she told me.

Prolonged stress also affected Fullah’s digestive system, resulting in a stomach ulcer with severe indigestion. Malnutrition weakened her immunity, leading to recurrent respiratory infections. When I first met her, she also had pneumonia.

“I know I have to eat to be able to nourish my baby, but I lost my appetite,” she continued.

Fullah and her baby needed urgent medical attention. A UNICEF-supported mobile health clinic in the area treated Fullah and provided her with the needed nutritional supplements and medicine. They also followed up her case closely with regular checkups until she delivered a healthy baby girl; Alia.

As a Syrian woman, I cannot be more in awe of the women of my country, who have borne the brunt of war for almost eight years now, trying to survive and protect their families.

With thanks to the generous contribution from ECHO, UNICEF has been able to reach over 15,000 women and children, in Aleppo, with health and nutrition services.