October 24 2012

We want our life back

How Syrian families try to survive

People in Syria are losing their jobs, their homes, their hope. Many did not live a life in wealth, but they were able to live a life in peace despite being poor. Now this is gone. What remains for many is the traditional strength of their family ties. Four families, who are being helped by SOS Children's Villages, tell how radically the war has changed their lives and views. Their stories were written down and documented in pictures by Syrian photographer Carole Alfarah. We start our series of family portraits with the family of Rana.

It has been one year and eight months since the start of the uprising in Syria, an uprising that has developed quickly and dangerously to take the form of an armed conflict. Many of the victims of the conflict are innocent Syrian families and individuals who belong to social classes between lower-middle class and poor.

The severity of this conflict can be seen in the violent clashes between the armed opposition and the Syrian regular army taking place in almost every small town in the Damascus countryside as well as in the Syrian capital. These different places have a common characteristic: a poor environment. Regardless of the current situation, people in these areas are in real need of material support and social awareness by the Syrian government, non-governmental organisations and community groups.

The persistence and the increase in day-to-day violence have caused deterioration in the economic conditions of the average Syrian citizen. All sense of security and stability has been lost. Men are unable to provide for their families, women live in daily fear, and a generation of children has lost its childhood.

The Syrian people are reserved by nature and do not like sharing their fears and experiences with anyone, but we found four brave families willing to speak with us. 

"Sometimes I feel so sad for the children"

Photo: Carole Alfarah
Rana with Maya and Issam © Carole Alfarah
In the first family are Rana (32), her husband Maher (33), and their two children Maya (10) and Issam (7). Maher used to work self-employed as a distributer for food supplements. One day in May 2012, the Syrian army entered his neighborhood in Harasta in the countryside of Damascus. Maher's car was smashed by a tank. He lost his job and only source of income.

His wife Rana says, "We used to represent a modest small family at the beginning of our journey in life. My husband was a textile merchant and I was working in a sewing atelier, allowing us to save money and buy a car for my husband. This gave him the opportunity to work as a food distributor and allowed me to stop working to raise our children and take care of the house. We were happy with Maher's new job since he was able to work independently and had a full-time job. The income was not high and we had to live day to day, but, thank God, we had a decent life.

Losing the car means we have lost our only means of making a living. Maher tried and is still trying to find a job, but he can't since there are no jobs due to the escalation of the situation in Syria. Unfortunately, we don't have any savings; today we are living with the support from our relatives. The situation has become so bad that we have so many debts and loans that I don't even know how we are going to pay them back. I want to send my children to school this year of course, but I am afraid to expose them to danger… Education is their right and God will protect them. However, I am not going to send them to their old school in Harasta where we currently live, as it is not safe there. I will try and send them to another school in a safe neighbourhood in the capital. The school is free, but we have to pay for the bus and I don't know where I can get the money from."

Ten-year-old Maya tells, "The first time I heard the sound of gun shooting, I was playing at home with my brother Issam. We ran to Mama and we were so scared, but I didn't cry. After that day I am no longer afraid. Issam always asks me, 'How come you are not afraid?' Now when we hear explosions or shooting while playing we don't stop, we just continue trying to play. Sometimes I think about the children living in those places where the shooting is happening. I can hear them in my mind and I feel so sad for them and their friends and family who die.

The first time I saw armed people was at school. Suddenly and out of nowhere, they started banging the school door and shouting for the school principal. The principal asked all teachers to stay in their classes, close the doors and to make sure no child goes out. She tried to calm us. I was watching from the window of my class and I saw the principal opening the school door when two men with covered faces carrying guns approached her. They were shouting at the principal asking her if she supports the free army or the regular Syrian army, to which she replied, 'I don't support any of you'… They weren't listening to her and told her that she should support them.

On that day there were so many of them and all my friends at the school were really scared. Sometimes when school is cancelled due to the fighting and I am at home I talk with my friend Sara who lives on the second floor. We talk about school and when it will start again, but when we hear the sound of the shooting again we wonder where it is coming from and I ask her if she can see anything from up there. Sooner or later the sound of gunfire and explosion fade away and we continue our conversation again."