Operating in Aleppo, Syria, has become increasingly dangerous with each passing year since the war in Syria broke out in 2011.
In August 2012, we had to evacuate the children and their SOS Mothers at the SOS Village in Aleppo—which was opened in 1998—to the relative safety of the SOS Village in Damascus. This April, we relocated 23 unaccompanied children from our Interim Care Center in Aleppo to our center in Damascus.
There has perhaps been no time—since the war erupted in 2011—more dangerous to be in Aleppo than today. Yet, our emergency teams are still there, still providing critical aid to the children and families who need it.
We interviewed one of our coworkers in Syria—whose name we’re withholding for safety reasons—to get an update on the situation for children in Aleppo.
Q&A: Working Against the Odds to Help Families in Aleppo
Aleppo has been a battleground for five years. What are the most urgent needs of the children and families who are seeking assistance?
The children of Aleppo have lived through an unforgettable experience in these five years. Parents have lost the power to help themselves or their children. Many families have been forced to leave their homes to seek a more secure place for their children.
When I meet the families, I do not even need to ask what their needs are. I can see when I look into the eyes of a 60-year-old man who has lost everything he had built or the eyes of a woman who has lost her only daughter.
We do all that we can to help them through these hard times by providing clean water, food items, clothing, hygiene kits, baby milk and nappies.
What are the psychological effects of war on the children?
Fear is evident on the children’s faces, and they know when shells are coming. They have the ability to differentiate between outgoing and incoming shells just from the sound. They try to sleep to forget the whole disaster, but it chases them in their dreams.
The harmful effects have also affected adolescents. One girl said that she is thinking seriously about suicide because she has no hope and she can’t get basic needs. “It doesn’t seem worth it,” she told me. “We don’t have to live this fear and humiliation every day.”
Many of Aleppo’s hospitals and health facilities have been damaged or destroyed. Is SOS Syria able to provide any pediatric or other medical help for children and mothers?
A 3-year-old boy in Aleppo waits his turn to fill empty water bottles from a community faucet managed by the Syrian Red Crescent. Throughout the war, Aleppo residents have faced serious water shortages, sometimes going weeks and months without running water.
The SOS team will provide displaced pregnant women with support, such as post-natal care, medicine, vitamins, nappies and baby milk.
Moreover, the SOS team is going to prepare a special tent for breastfeeding mothers in an area where 2,400 displaced families are gathering outside Aleppo. Not only will they have a space to meet, but we will provide them with sessions about the importance of breastfeeding and the sterilization of bottles.
What about schools? Are Aleppo’s children still able to attend class on a regular basis?
On Aug. 10, the SOS team participated in a formal meeting held under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. The ministry said there were 4,040 schools in Aleppo before the war, and now there are just 686. Only 17 percent of children are enrolled in primary school this year compared to 87 percent before the war. The percentage of children at secondary school has dropped from 74 percent before the war to 26 percent in 2016.
The increased violence has also meant that half of children in Aleppo were not able to take their baccalaureate exams.
Throughout the summer holidays, the available schools in Aleppo will admit children in order to teach a curriculum that has been prepared to help children who were forced to drop out of school because of the conflict. We want to rehabilitate two schools in Aleppo and open a temporary school near the city to provide classes.
What are conditions like for you and other coworkers?
After the difficult decision to close our programs in Aleppo, we felt that we must still continue to try and do something to support Aleppo’s children, especially since many thousands of families with children are constantly displaced from their homes.
The lack of running water or power makes life difficult. There are limited vegetables and meat available to buy, and even when they are available, they are too expensive. You live in fear of where and when the next bomb will drop.
Watching your beloved city being destroyed, seeing the helplessness and the need of the people, it is heart-breaking and exhausting.
We get frustrated and sad when we get information that describes the scale of the disaster, such as how many people are displaced from their home and the bad living conditions either in the streets or in the tents. But I should say that this makes us work harder trying to find some solutions that can contribute to making lives a little bit better. We are working with the hope that we can provide people with clean water, food, cooked meals, hygiene items, baby milk and nappies. That wouldn’t be possible without the support of our donors.
Support Children in Syria
Now in its its sixth year, the Syrian Civil War has left millions of children displaced from their homes, caught in the line of fire and trapped in poverty