Cat Carter, Head of Humanitarian Information & Communications
Save the Children UK
October 16, 2013
I first met Sami*, 12, in a Save the Children supported school in Lebanon. His quick smile and easy manner meant he quickly endeared himself to the staff there, and the visiting Save the Children research team, of which I was one.
He invited us back to his home, to meet his mother and siblings. We checked with our security team – this area of Lebanon is considered ‘high risk’ due to frequent clashes and car bombs, so all staff movement is monitored closely. We received clearance and set off, moving slowly through busy marketplace. We pulled up to Sami’s home - it’s a small garage.
After multiple greetings were completed, we slipped off our shoes and sat on the cold concrete floor to chat. Slowly, we pieced together Sami’s story.
“I came from Syria one month ago….”. He paused, and looks intently at the wall, wondering how to explain what life was like in Syria for him and his siblings. Finally he shrugged and said simply “the situation was black and difficult.”
His mother Amira* steps in to continue the story. Prior to their arrival in Lebanon, Sami’s family moved around, leaving their urban hometown when the conflict intensified - at one point snipers were targeting people trying to fetch food and water – and arrived in a rural village, where they thought they would be safe. That village subsequently came under attack, and the whole family were trapped there for a full month, unable to leave and unable to get supplies in. Food became very scarce. When the shelling and shooting began each day, most villagers ran to a cave for shelter, but it was far from Sami's* house, so instead they climbed into a large sewage pipe nearby.
At their lowest point the family were surviving on one cucumber and some tomatoes each. “The worst time was three days at the end when we were surrounded. We slept hungry - my brother and sisters and I. Shelling was happening at the same time. There was no gas, so when we had a little flour my mother tried to make some bread burning plastic bags and paper for fuel.”
It is a bleak picture and Amira* shakes her head sadly. She explains to us that she is deeply ashamed of their situation in Lebanon, and likened their life in Syria to the situation facing Somalia in the height of the famine in 2011, recalling that she watched with pity as Somali mothers were interviewed on television to raise money for humanitarian aid. She said that she was now in the same situation.
I explained that it wasn’t just money we wanted from the world – we were also pushing for unfettered humanitarian access into Syria, so that Save the Children and other aid agencies could deliver life-saving food, water and medicine to those who needed it the most. Amira just smiled sadly and gently asked us to stay to eat a little food with them. We played with the children, taking it in turns to blow up brightly coloured balloons and release them, desperately trying to catch them, and failing every time. Before long I was breathless with laughter but when I said goodbye to Sami and Amira, I left their home with a profound sense of sadness. Amira simply didn’t believe it was possible to get humanitarian aid into Syria in any meaningful way. She didn’t think it was possible, that those trapped in heavy conflict zones inside Syria were beyond help.
I want to prove her wrong.
*all names have been changed to protect identities
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