Surviving conflict, displacement and a pandemic: Jawaher’s story

WFP and UNICEF support families with food and hygiene items as part of COVID-19 response

Sandra Awad and Lina Alqassab
a woman in a kitchen
23 August 2020

Rural Damascus, Syria, 16 August 2020 - In a hollow structure on a rooftop in the village of Kashkoul in rural Damascus lives Jawaher, 30, with her husband and five children.

The windowless uninsulated room was all the family could afford after violence forced them to flee their home in rural Aleppo three years ago, to settle in rural Damascus.

Although life back home was not luxurious, the family’s income made through the father’s work as a day labourer was enough to put food on the table. But after years of displacement, things are different, especially with the recent rise of COVID-19 and resulting restrictions, combined with inflation and increasing prices of basic commodities.

a woman and a boy carrying groceries up a staircase
Jawaher carries newly-bought diapers for her baby Watan, purchased using an e-voucher supported by WFP and UNICEF

“On the days he works, he comes home with some vegetables that I cook into a meal,” explains Jawaher. “But on the many days he doesn’t, we survive on bread soaked in sweet tea,”.

Even Watan, the family’s five-months old baby boy had his share of suffering; he has suffered skin problems due to wearing plastic bags and ragged cloths in place of diapers that the family could not afford.

However, in November 2019, the family started receiving assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) in the form of electronic vouchers that allow families to purchase food items including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats and canned foods from pre-selected shops.

“The first month we received the assistance was the first time we had chicken in years,” recalls Jawaher. “I remember the children walking in from school to find me cooking chicken for lunch and they started jumping up and down in excitement!”

a mother helping a child wash his hands
Jawaher helps her son, Nader, 5, wash his hands using soap purchased through e-vouchers supported by WFP and UNICEF

Having missed out years of education due to conflict and displacement, Jawaher’s children signed up for the UNICEF-supported Curriculum B programme; an accelerated learning programme allowing children to catch-up on their learning in half the required time by combining two academic years in one, eventually reintegrating with their peers.

Therefore, in May 2020, the family qualified for additional assistance from UNICEF meant for families of children under the Curriculum B programme, using the same e-vouchers, to purchase hygiene items to protect against COVID-19, including much-needed diapers for baby Watan.

“I can now buy cleaning products to keep the house clean and sanitized to make sure the children stay healthy,” adds Jawaher.

Thanks to a generous contribution from the Department for International Development (DFID) funding the UNICEF component of the joint programme, around 4,000 vulnerable families in Damascus and rural Damascus have received the monthly assistance to purchase food and hygiene items.

“Life was already tough, but it became so much harder with the spread of COVID-19 and the worsening economic situation,” says Jawaher. “But it helps to feel that we are not alone in this and that there are people out there who care to help us provide our children’s basic needs.“