I was clearing up my handphone Gallery last night and came across photos from a humanitarian mission that I lead inside Syria in the winter of 2018. I smiled as my thoughts wandered away to the many fond memories of our journey.
Moving around inside Syria is always a bumpy experience. Many vital roads have been disrupted by the ongoing 9-year war-making movement difficult. Besides that, unpaved roads meant you will stumble onto potholes and dirt. Traveling during winter would mean driving over mud and water puddles. Most roads in Syria do not have street lights which makes it dangerous to be out in the dark in the countryside after 5pm.
And while traveling in Syria, it is not just the roads that may not always be pleasant. The sights you get to see too can make your heart shatter. Usually, in between the beautiful fields and mountains, there will be endless rows of tents. These tents are makeover shelters for millions of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) that were forced to leave their home to seek safety in foreign areas.
Besides that, ruined buildings along the roadside give me an eerie indescribable feeling. Knowing there were families living inside those buildings and wondering where they are now? What were they doing when the airstrikes without mercy showered them? Were they killed in the airstrikes that ruined their homes? Where their bodies buried under the rubbles? Or did they have time to save their lives leaving everything they own to burn to the ground? Did they witness the death of their loved ones? Or maybe they tried to save those injured and stuck under the rubbles but only to witness them die in front of them? Just the thought of it is so devastating.
The reality of being an IDP is waking up in the morning not knowing if there would be food for them that day or even live without fear of being killed.
For survival, they build makeshift shelters from anything they could salvage such as canvas, old rugs, wood or metal for years on end under olive trees or anywhere they. They who once lived in houses with a steady income and enjoy life just like us now can only sit and wait for the uncertain future that lays in front of them.
I remember an opportunity I had to visit a family in a camp in the countryside of Aleppo back in 2018.
We were on our rounds to distribute food packs that early winter afternoon. As soon as our car turned into a small unpaved road I saw a very long row of shelters built in between trees. Between the road and the shelters, I could see children and men walking on muddy land. A lorry that carried our food packs had arrived earlier and a long line of men was already waiting anxiously to receive their share.
A few men from the camp went past me waving their hands and saying thank you after receiving the food packs. I felt delighted seeing them smile. It doesn’t take much to put a smile on anyone. But knowing what they have to go through it makes all the effort we put in so worthwhile.
I walked closer to a group of children from the camp who were standing in a group watching us from the time we arrived. They seemed a bit shy at first but they opened up after I started a conversation with them. With my little knowledge of the Syrian accent, I find it easier to mingle with them. Their thin clothes were dirty from the mud around them. Although the weather was cold they were not wearing decent shoes. Some were even barefooted.
Their clothes were merely ragged soiled light jackets. Instantly I looked down to see myself. I had on me a 3 layer of warm attire while wearing a coat. A warm knitted hat and a pair of waterproof winter boots. I took a deep breath. Thankful for what I have.
That instant I heard my name been called by Abu Qusay our representative in al-Bab, Syria. I started walking towards him as he leads me towards one of the shelters there. As I was walking I saw a man carrying a rifle escorting us. Things are very uncertain in this region our safety is a big priority.
I stepped inside what seemed to be a courtyard that was very muddy and slippery we had to walk very carefully to avoid falling. It had several small tents and a squared shelter that I was later told made from clay. Two families stayed there and they shared a kitchen that was only a tent made from nylon. No cement flooring. Just soil.
Samira the owner of the tents insisted on us coming in her small room made of clay. I couldn’t decline her invitation so we went in and sat on the floor. The space was very small and it had a wood furnace in the middle.
After talking for a while getting to know where she came from and about her life as an internally displaced person (IDP) I received a phone call from Dr. Husamudin our representative in Istanbul “Ustazah you have to come out now! We have to leave immediately. This place is not safe!” I took a deep breath and turned towards Athirah and Atiqah our team member and told them “We leave now!”
They were startled and confused but they followed me out as I excused myself from Samra.
As in any missions we must always expect the unexpected at all times.
Siti Sakinah binti Meor Omar Baki,
CEO Syria Care.