In northern Aleppo’s Fafin camp in Syria, families prepare for winter

“We have been here for almost a year. We have to continue our life and cheer our children up,”

Basma Ourfali
A girl playing with a balloon in the rain outside her tent
UNICEF/ Syria 2018/ Khudr Al- Issa

06 January 2019

It was a cold and rainy day when I visited Fafin tented camp in northern rural Aleppo. Fafin is home to 5,000 people who had fled escalating violence in Afrin almost a year ago.

As I walked around the camp, one tent stood out. Its entrance was decorated with colorful balloons. “We are celebrating the beginning of a new year,” said the young woman doing laundry in front of the cheerful tent.

“We have been here for almost a year. We have to continue our life and cheer our children up,”

Feryal's mother

The community had set up a school in a group of tents where children attend non-formal remedial classes. It’s a simple school where children sit on rugs on the ground instead of desks.

This time when I visited the rain was so heavy everything was soaking wet and children were taking their lessons standing up. One of the teachers caught me peeking into her classroom with worry, “This is normal during the rainy season” she said, “but we don’t close the school because the children want to come even when it’s raining.”

A boy playing with pigeons outside his tent
©UNICEF/ Syria 2018/ Khudr Al- Issa
Ferhad, 8, plays with pigeons tended by his neighbour in Fafin camp in the northern rural Aleppo.

I noticed that several children were still wearing their summer clothes. Aref, a 9-year-old I talked to during recess, told me that he wishes he had new boots and a jacket to keep warm. When the school day ended I walked with 8-year-old Dou’a back to her tent. It was still pouring outside. She rubbed her hands together to keep warm as we sprinted under the rain. Under a coat that was too small for her, she hid her school books in a plastic bag.

In the next two weeks UNICEF will be distributing winter clothes in northern rural Aleppo. Aref, Dou’a and thousands of children will get a full set of winter clothes to keep them warm and dry.

Walking further into the camp, I found a pigeon coop built with branches and ropes. Ferhad, 8, unlocked the cage for a flock of beautiful birds to soar high up into the sky. “The birds are my neighbour’s but he lets me play with them,” he told me with a wide smile.

I ended my day at the camp with a cup of hot tea with Hasnaa, a 32-year old mother of five who invited me over to her tent. After a year at the camp, Hasnaa managed to turn a cold tent into a cozy and tidy home. Is there anything a mother would not do for her children?

In one corner, she created a small kitchen where a couple of jars of barley, lentils and sugar stood. On the opposite corner were a few mattresses stacked on top of each other. Later in the day she would lay them out for the family when the tent is transformed into a bedroom. “Our main meal for winter is lentil soup, it’s filling, available and it warms up the children,” she told me.

Over the past year, I visited children and families in Fafin half a dozen times. And every time I am amazed at the strength of children and families to bring back some normalcy back to their lives with assistance from UNICEF and partners.

As we go into a new year – and a new winter – children and families in Fafin and many other places all over Syria count on all of us at UNICEF and on our partner and donors, to help keep them warm, learning and safe.

 

Years of displacement, violence and loss of livelihoods have left families unable to provide for their children’s most basic needs, including winter clothes. UNICEF is on the ground in Fafin camp providing water, hygiene and sanitation services, health and nutrition items, follow-up health visits, non-formal education opportunities and psychosocial support for children. But as temperatures drop, we need to secure warm winter clothes and blankets to protect children against the cold. To reach 540,000 vulnerable children in Fafin and elsewhere in Syria with winter clothes and e-vouchers by March 2019, UNICEF requires US$ 22.8 million.