For the third time last Christmas, Father Christmas forgot to pass by. Now, children no longer wait for their gifts; they have bigger fears to deal with. They need to find shelter and food, and they need to keep warm to survive winter. They are grownups now.
When it snows in Syria, children and adults consider it a festive time. They put on all kinds of warm clothes they can find at home – scarfs, gloves, boots, everything – and go out in the streets or to the nearby parks to play with the snow and make a snow man. You could hear their laughter from far away in the street.
Now, everything has gone. It’s been three years now: No more Christmas warmth in the cold snow. Distractions are everywhere, and every house has a sad story to tell: women in endless mourning, children asking “when is Dad coming back home? Why has he stayed away for so long this time? Can’t he at least speak to us on the phone?!”
Street lights are dark, Christmas trees have been replaced by flowers on graves. The church bells sing in a low sound, trying to spread a message of peace and happiness in the land of war.
Farah was a music teacher at a kindergarten in Damascus; she passed away at the age of 25 after being hit by a mortar on her way back from school in late November. She had a sweet voice and used to sing in the church choir. She was engaged and planning her wedding soon after Christmas. I can’t even imagine how hard it is for her fiancé to survive with this horrible incident. Just like many others, they had dreams and a life to live, but unfortunately they shared their destiny with a mortar.
In Syria today, there are more than 6.52 million internally displaced people and 9.35 million affected people – more than half of the country’s population. Most of them are facing the most difficult living circumstances they ever had to deal with. They are living on construction sites, with no doors, or windows to protect against the chilly wind. The roofs leak rain water. There is no fuel or electricity for hot water for a shower. Back to the old times: They are burning everything they find in fires so that they can warm up their tired hands.
When I started the needs assessment to analyse the most important needs for displaced people in Syria and how we can meet these needs as a humanitarian organisation, I was wandering if providing a blanket or a jacket would be sufficient. Is it enough? At the same time, I can’t provide everything; we have limited resources.
Time passed and we started the distribution targeting 100,000 displaced and affected people in Syria. It was then that my question was loudly answered by young Ahmad, 7, standing in front of me in the courtyard of a Damascene house in the old city of Damascus, with the rain water gathered in the corner, contributing to the wet wind blowing and running through the broken windows.
He looked at me with sad wide eyes full of stories to tell, and said with a shy smile, “Thank you very much Rasha. I like the jacket. At least I can be warm on my way to school now.” He was wearing sandals, with no socks. His toes were blue-red, yet his hands were as warm as the tears in his eyes. He felt grateful, he had hope again. Ahmad gave me hope despite the situation he’s currently living in. He made me trust that I am doing the right thing, even if it is small or maybe not enough or not reaching each and every one in need. It is still contributing to bringing back hope to a child.
It’s three years on. The war in Syria started as a revolution, was then misused by several parties and took the shape of an armed conflict, which then escalated into a sectarian war till it finally took shape in the last couple of months as a war against terrorism and “the Islamic war in the Holly Land of Syria” as the extremist Islamite militias claim. The death toll has now reached 150,000, children, women and men. Families are left behind without any source of livelihood.