Zahira’s perseverance helps her family look forward to better days
UNICEF’s Cash for Winter programme helps vulnerable families to prepare
Rural Damascus, Syria - “Living amid rubble is tough, but it’s worse during the winter,” Zahira said. “My husband and I spent most of our time trying to stop rainwater from leaking in,” she added.
They were forced to flee their home in Ein Tarma, Rural Damascus, with their four daughters and extended family in 2011. They were displaced because of the conflict and, for years, they took shelter in abandoned houses. Life was filled with hardship and both Zahira and Ismail, her husband, had to keep working. Ismail, who is a carpenter, helped people fix their homes, damaged because of the conflict. Zahira worked multiple jobs to support her family. “I used to run from one building to the other, dodging shells, to go to work,” she said.
In 2018, they were able to return home. “I cried my heart out when I saw the house. In the past, every one of us had a room. We lived happily together until we had to escape for safety,” Zahira explained, recalling her life prior to the conflict.
She had to pull herself together after seeing their severely damaged home for the first time in years. “We have a lot of work to do, I told my husband then,” she added.
“I was tired of living on the move and just wanted to return home,” she reflected on their decision to come back. Within a year, the couple fixed parts of the house using stone blocks they would collect from the surrounding area. “We didn’t have a roof over the corridor leading to the bathroom and kitchen, but still, we were at home,” Zahira said.
During the years of displacement, Zahira and Ismail struggled to make ends meet and she had to feed her daughters by baking with a mix of barley and fodder. After moving back home, Zahira noticed that her three daughters – Hala, Reem and Ithraa – were all shorter and smaller than their peers in school. She took them to a nearby UNICEF -supported health centre.
The girls were diagnosed with malabsorption, a difficulty in the digestion or absorption of nutrients from food. Reem and Ithraa were given medicine to support their growth and Reem was advised not to eat anything that contains wheat. “There were days when we had nothing to eat but bread. The girls’ inadequate diet was probably what led to this,” said Zahira.
This year, Zahira was approached by UNICEF -supported volunteers. The family qualified for UNICEF’s Cash for Winter programme. In October, the family received the first tranche of the cash assistance, an equivalent to US$ 60. Zahira used part of the money to buy food for Reem to help her maintain a healthy diet. “I was excited I would be able to buy cornbread for the girls and store some suitable food for Reem,” explained Zahira.
With winter approaching, she bought materials needed to fix the cracked ceiling of the house with the remaining amount of cash. She also paid for two construction workers to get the work done. Some good people also helped her buy a plastic ceiling to cover the corridor.
“I hope when winter sets in, my mom will draw a new higher line to show my height,” said Reem, pointing at the lines Zahira drew on the kitchen closet to monitor the girls’ growth during their treatment. “Winter was tough before, but now I feel we can welcome it,” she added.
In September 2022, UNICEF launched its Cash for Winter programme. It aims to reach over 200,000 highly vulnerable people and children, affected by high levels of displacement and severe damage of housing stock, living in urban slums across the country. Through the programme, after identification and registration, families will receive three rounds of cash assistance, one round every two months for the 2022-2023 winter season. All families will be accompanied by a dedicated social worker who will help the families and children with special needs access services they require. The activities will be funded by Governments of Canada and Denmark; EU Humanitarian Aid (ECHO); France National Committee for UNICEF; Luxembourg National Committee for UNICEF; Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA); UNICEF’s Global Humanitarian Thematic Fund; and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund.