about the author
Senior Regional Public Information Officer - Cairo
A former journalist, Abeer is based in Cairo as WFP's Senior Regional Public Information Officer for the Middle East.
During her recent trip to Syria, WFP Senior Spokesperson Abeer Etefa met Souad, a 27-year-old mother whose family lost their home to the fighting. Eking out an existence in an empty building near the battles lines, she and her family are surviving on food provided to them by WFP.
“Please look at me closely, look at my face. Do I look like a 27 year old?” she asks me. She is waiting for an answer from me. She certainly doesn’t look like she is 27
“When I happen to come across a mirror which I don’t even have, I look at my face and cannot even recognize who I am anymore. I don’t look like 27. I don’t feel like 27. My face, body and spirit aged a lot in the last few months. We have all aged.”
Souad fled her home in Deir Ezzor with her husband and 3 year old son and took refuge in the city of Qamishly in Al-Hassake Governorate 8 months ago. Her son has also a development problem and cannot get the proper medication or treatment. At the age of three, he cannot walk on his own or say any words.
“The fighting was intense and we were sandwiched in the crossfire. We fled under heavy shelling. I couldn’t tell you where the bullets were come from.”
“We had a good life. My husband was making good money working in a bakery but with the fighting that overtook our area, we had no other choice but to run for our lives and indeed we ran and left everything behind. We couldn’t even pack our clothes.”
In response to me consoling her and saying “thank God for your safe arrival here”, she answers “it is easy to say that but when I learnt that my home, possessions and everything that we worked for and saved are gone, you wonder who really arrived safely?
“We’re physically safe here but I feel as if my spirit is gone,” she says.
Souad, her husband and son are struggling to make ends meet and have taken refuge in this near finished building in Qamishly without doors or windows. I ask her about the winter and how they spend the night.
“We are grateful and thankful to God that we have a roof on top of our head but it is freezing here and we block the window and door with a piece of wood and face these long freezing winter nights with patience and hope that we will go to what we called home one day.”
I see some pieces of wood on the floor that they burn at night for heating. The building doesn’t have water, sewage or electricity and the whole northeast of Syria has severe shortage of fuel.
“At night, it is pitch black in this whole neighborhood - sort of the color of our lives now. Even if we could afford a generator and fuel for this generator, this building doesn’t have the infrastructure for electricity.”
Most of Syria has severe power outages with electricity in some areas only coming for 1 to 2 hours a day.
Prioritizing the displaced
WFP prioritizes food assistance to vulnerable displaced families in both government and opposition controlled areas.
Souad shows me what is left of WFP food rations that she receives on monthly basis. She uncovers the saucepan and shows me what is left of the pasta which she was feeding to her son over lunch.
“My husband is trying hard to find a job but there are no economic or work opportunities left in this country,” she says.
“The food that we are getting from WFP is vital to my family especially the oil, pasta and bulgur. Thank you God (Alhamduallah, Alhamduallah). How else can we survive? Food prices have increased and become beyond our reach.”
“We really don’t have to worry about food at least thanks to WFP and the Red Crescent. The ration keeps us going for few weeks,” she says.
Her only wish is to go home to see who is left of her family, rebuild her home and life, find a cure for her son and have another child.
“We want our lives back. We want to go home and live peacefully, raise our children in peace.”