BY BRIAN FREEDMAN
Digital Content Coordinator, SOS-USA
—Nine-year-old Khulud noticed us from the balcony of her family’s apartment. She doesn’t get many visitors, not to mention visitors with ghostly white skin and a poor excuse for Arabic.
Fortunately for Khulud and me, my Syrian colleague Abeer was present. Abeer knew immediately that Khulud and her family are Syrian refugees. Abeer’s job in Syria is to document the stories of the children and families that SOS Children’s Villages helps through our Emergency Response Program. It didn’t take long for Abeer to start chatting with Khulud and her family. It took even less time for Khulud’s father to invite us in for tea.
Khulud lives with her mother and father, Mohammad and Ahlam, and her seven siblings. Their apartment is a concrete, one-room shell with no doors or windows, no heating or air conditioning, no running water and no indoor plumbing. All 10 members of the family sleep on the floor on thin mats.
Abeer takes a selfie with Khulud and two of her sisters
As we work for a child-focused organization, Abeer always makes sure to first capture the stories of the children impacted by the war. She asks Khulud what she remembers from the days just before they left their home in Syria two years ago.
“My mother told me not to look, but I saw my friends in pieces,” Khulud tells us. “Their hands were not attached to their bodies anymore.”
Khulud was describing a scene that took place two years ago when a rocket exploded next to her family’s home in Idlib. Five children who were playing outside—Khulud’s friends—were killed.
“I was really terrified when five children died on my doorstep,” says Khulud’s mother, Ahlam. “I couldn’t help imagining that they could’ve been my own children.”
It was then that Ahlam and her husband Muhammad knew it was time to take their family and leave home. Since the war in Syria began in 2011, at least 7.6 million Syrians have been displaced within the country. An additional 4 million are now living as refugees in other countries.
For about a year, Khulud and her family wandered from village to village within Syria. Some nights, they slept outside under trees. They would eat grass and leaves just to stay alive. If they were lucky, a family would host them in their village but never for more than three days because of the burden of hosting a big family like Khulud’s. The winter months were particularly brutal.
“I spent the nights watching my children laying their little faces on the ice cold rocks,” Khulud’s father, Muhammad, tells us. “I cried a lot whenever I thought that the warmth of our home is now nothing but a dream.”
After a miserable year of moving around Syria, Muhammad and his wife decided to join the more than 1 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. The family now lives in a small village in northern Lebanon called Hasroun.
Muhammad works in construction, but he doesn’t make much money. He and his family rely on support from international aid agencies, but even that isn’t enough. Some days, his children don’t eat because he can’t buy enough food.
As far as school is concerned, neither Khulud nor her seven siblings attend because of the prohibitive $200 cost per child for the academic year. Free schooling is available to Syrian refugees; however, in the spring the Lebanese government imposed stricter criteria for Syrians to renew their registration as refugees. Because of the new rules, Muhammad and his family can’t register with the government and thus the children are not eligible for the free schooling.
“It’s my dream to know how to write my name. I wish somebody would teach me how to hold the pen,” Khulud says to us. “School is almost here this year and I am jealous of our neighbors who are getting ready for it.”
Abeer Pamuk of SOS Children's Villages Syria contributed to this report.
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