08/17/2018, 10.55
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Caritas Syria, Ghouta refugees starving for food and love

by Sandra Awad*

The daily survival of people displaced  from the rebel enclave on the outskirts of Damascus. Rebels and jihadists "live happily" in Turkey, while civilians suffer. Women who give birth on the streets amid garbage; diseases and skin infections; the hunger of children scavaging for sugar and biscuits. They lack food, drinking water and doctors. However, the feeling of abandonment prevails over hunger. "They come to bring us aid, they treat us like insects and look with disgust at us". Part II.


Damascus (AsiaNews) - The second part of the journey among the displaced people of eastern Ghouta, an area on the outskirts of Damascus that was  controlled for a long time by rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad. 

These people who, despite hardship and deprivation, are often without food to give to their children, claim they have "more need for love than for food". And they reject the association with extremist and rebel groups who have long controlled the area and who today "have fled to Turkey and live happily. We, on the other hand, have not hurt anyone, we are suffering."

At the end of July Caritas Syria, together with a Muslim NGO, distributed 1480 food baskets to displaced families. The Christian activists have delivered a thousand baskets of fruit and vegetables and 600 packages containing diapers for the little ones to a population in extreme need.

Sandra Awad, wife and mother of two children, is head of Communication of Caritas Syria. Together with a group of colleagues she crossed the threshold of the reception center and recored the desperate testimonies of the refugees for AsiaNews (in photo). The extreme poverty and overcrowding of the rooms, broken families, wives and husbands who can only spend a few minutes a day together, the feeling of being looked at with "disgust" even by those who should provide help and assistance. Here is the testimony of the Caritas manager. For Part I click here:

We finally reached our destination, Al Nashabiyeh lodging center, which is, technically, a primary school, that had gathered in its narrow classrooms hundreds of displaced families from the villages of Ghouta. Families over there were divided in two buildings, one for men, and another for women and children.

I stepped off the bus, and my colleagues and the volunteers from a Church scout group who accompanied us started preparing the lists to distributes the humanitarian aids.

My eyes met one of the ladies, so I smiled to her, and it seemed as if my smile was all what she had been waiting for a long time, so she grabbed my hand and pulled me inside the building. At the beginning, I felt afraid, but the smiles of women and children around me, and their great joy with my visit to them had vanished all my fears away.

We went up to the second floor, and as I was passing by each classroom, I was sneaking with my sight inside it, only to see the view of extreme poverty and the overcrowding of their inhabitants.

We finally reached the classroom where the women who invited me lived; clothes being spread on wires here and there in front of the green board. Two kids sleeping in a dirty bed, and a big piece of cloth covering them to protect them from flies and the many insects which were there, dirty mattresses, pillows and covers were piled in the corners. Plastic shoes, extremely ragged, thrown all around the room.

"How many families are there in this room?", I asked one of those women.

"We are nine families in this classroom, ma'am", she answered, "women and children. Our men and sons are in the other building. We never meet but during daytime in the school playground, like total strangers, under the burning sunrays.

At that moment, a young woman entered, carrying an infant in her arms, so one of the women sitting around me said to me: "This is my daughter-in-law. She gave birth a few days ago on this same mattress that we're sitting on. I helped her deliver the baby myself since The Red Crescent ambulance car couldn't arrive on time and was too late to take her to the health center. A very skinny woman added: "I'm pregnant, too, and I'm really concerned that the ambulance car might not arrive on time. Can you believe it? It's been 7 months since I got pregnant, and no single gynecologist has seen me during that entire period.

Another woman said: "Just women illnesses? Let me show you, ma'am." She removed her veil and showed me her neck, to show me what she called "A weird insect's bite" spreading all around her neck like a necklace, and covered with white purulence, and many other women did as she did and showed me their necks and the bites in different parts of their bodies.

"The worst thing, ma'am", one of them added, " is hunger. When you see your own kids starving in front of you and desiring a piece of a biscuit. The other day, an association distributed some detergents to us, thus I took the detergent, sold it and bought some sugar for the tea instead.

Another woman said to me: "Believe it or not, ma'am, there are a charity who comes to provide our kids with psycho-social support. My son avoids playing outside when they come, because they don't give him biscuits. Those kids are hungry! They are in need of food, what kind of psycho-social support can be offered to hungry people?!!!

"You're right", I said, What about water? Where do you drink from?"

One of them answered: "From The Red Cross & The Red Crescent containers down there. I swear to you, ma'am, the water is polluted. I was drinking the other day when I found a worm inside the water. The diarrhea and stones cases are endless, but we can't help drinking it, I mean I try to boil it before giving it to the kids to drink, but that is not always possible. "


They accompanied me to the extremely dirty school bathrooms, and one of the women, who seemed to be a tough lady, started talking in a loud voice: "Ma'am, I swear to you that we are in pain,  and our lives resemble those of beasts rather than humans. We are forgotten in this lodging center for five months, not many people care about us. Do you know that there has been two suicide cases between men so far? How wouldn't they commit suicide while they have no work to do the entire day. They have no more hope. Our homes are destroyed, our properties are gone, and up above this we are living totally forgotten.

Suddenly, it seemed that words were insufficient for that woman to express the pain that was inside her heart, and she started to cry, and I found myself approaching her to hold her to my chest and cry with her too, in the middle of the dirty bathrooms.

She looked at me with her wet eyes, not believing what had just happened, and told me: "You know what, ma'am? Perhaps we are in need of love more than food. They come to bring us aids, they treat us like insects and seem to be disgusted of us, but we feel that you love us and want to help us from your hearts. Look at you, you're standing with us in these dirty bathrooms, and listening to us from all your heart. Ma'am, I want to tell you that not all people inside Ghouta are bandits. Believe me those bad people ran away to Turkey and are living happily now, but we, who have not hurt anyone, are suffering here. I beg you, ma'am, deliver our voice.

I call, from my heart, on all the national associations working on the ground and the good people and friends abroad to help our people in Ghouta. For we are all in Syria, one body; if one organ aches, the entire body won't be fine, whether now or in the near or the far future.

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