I joined the Unicef team in Homs a bit over a month ago. My role is to coordinate partnerships on the ground, follow-up on implementation of projects and delivery of humanitarian assistance, and monitor the impact and results of our work. It's a constant challenge due to the ever changing security and access situation, but thanks to the tireless efforts being made by our partners and the Unicef team, we have been able to make significant progress, even during the few weeks I have been with Unicef.
I started my work in the humanitarian assistance field at the beginning of the crisis in 2011, when I was still working for a private construction company in Damascus as procurement officer. Around that time, I started volunteering with one of the local NGOs in Homs, where I am originally from. I assisted displaced families who came from Homs to find places for them to live. I also bought and transported supplies to Homs, including bread, blankets, mattresses, hygiene items and others. This was critical at a time when, at the beginning of the crisis, there were almost no goods and supplies available in the city because of closure of businesses.
It was also around this time that the company I worked for had to close business due to the security situation. I switched full time to volunteering with the NGO and moved back to Homs. My entire family, however, decided to leave the country. My close friends have left too. My family's wish was that I join them abroad, but I decided to stay in Syria because I thought, what will happen if everyone with skills to help the country leaves?
I joined Unicef after about six months of working with the NGO. Being in Unicef gives me the chance to stay in my country, keep a job, and help vulnerable children at the same time. Life here does get lonely sometimes, with my family and friends out of the country. Everyone goes home before sunset and prefers to stay indoors for safety, which leaves no room for social life after work. I go home in the evening and continue working. Power supply is erratic, and water is available only every few days, and only for a few hours.
Businesses are closing and people are losing their jobs. It's not a situation many people can endure. In the middle of this, volunteers and staff in NGOs and with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) are risking their safety while delivering assistance and rescuing the injured. These are our partners who put their lives on the line, for no financial reward.
The complexity of the environment is unimaginable. One day, we can simply lose the ability to go to where we usually have access because of fighting. Just recently, we couldn't go to Waer district for a few weeks because of fighting there. This meant that we couldn't follow up on the projects that are underway in an area where the needs are great and where a significant number of IDPs in the city are centered. We couldn't meet with partners based there, causing delays in delivery of assistance.
We are constantly concerned about where the already displaced families will go if fighting intensifies and expands further to areas of high IDP concentration.
Following recent fighting which caused the displacement of thousands of people from some parts of the city, more schools have turned into shelters. This meant that children had to stay home because there was no space for them to learn. Some classes continued operating but outside in the school yard, where children sat under the sun and at the mercy of the weather.
We acted quickly. Unicef supported partners to establish makeshift classrooms in the schoolyard of one of the schools in Waer district. Soon, 12 classrooms were ready for children to go back to learning. Currently, 2,600 children are learning through three shifts conducted daily, while displaced families who have nowhere else to go got to stay in the school building.
"God bless you" is what the teacher said to me when I went to see the school a few weeks after the classrooms opened. "You have done a good deed. You brought children back to school, and kept a roof over families in need".
When I first joined Unicef, I wasn't sure why we put so much focus on supporting learning programmes and distributing educational and recreational supplies, when the population is in need of the most basic life-saving services like water, health and food.
But one day I went to monitor distribution of recreational supplies to recently displaced children in one of the shelters. They had just been displaced from violent fighting and families were in a bad state. I could see that the parents were in distress and families had nothing. In the courtyard, children lined up to receive the supplies.
One of the children was a seven-year-old boy with intellectual disability. He received a colouring book and crayons and started colouring. He looked so happy, and his mother looked relieved too. She mentioned that although she tried to put him in school, no one accepted him under the current difficult circumstances. But just at that moment, the boy was happy and the mother felt that he was cared for.
For kids to overcome the stress in which they are living, they need education and they need psychological support in a safe environment. In a time when not many actors focus on this aspect, Unicef is the lifeline for children's wellbeing. Unicef is also supporting large scale water and sanitation activities in Homs, in addition to providing health services.
We're working with partners to support a generation to prevent them from being lost. Like our saying goes, even one candle can light up a dark place. What keeps me going is when I see that we're making a difference. When I see an empty room transforming into a classroom, and ultimately filled with children sitting and learning in it. Even if we can't help everybody in need, we're still lighting up many candles.