Braving Rebel-held Territory in Syria to Deliver Backpacks
Being the team leader of an emergency response team in Syria is not without its challenges.
For one, Ahmad, 32, spends a considerable amount of time in dangerous rebel-controlled territory delivering aid items to Syrian families. Just to be able to safely deliver food, school supplies and clothes in certain areas around Damascus, he must coordinate with multiple warring factions.
Late last year, for example, he was leading a group of volunteers near Damascus to deliver backpacks to thousands of schoolchildren who no longer attend class because of the war. As he does with every trip, he was taking pictures to document his work. Suddenly, a member of a rebel group approached him and accused him of taking photos of military positions to give to the Syrian Army. Ahmad was able to diffuse the situation, largely, he says, because of the training he received from SOS Children’s Villages (SOS), where he has worked since SOS launched its Emergency Relief Program in March 2013.
Despite all the risks inherent in his job, he says he is rewarded each day by the impact he and his team make, especially on the lives of children.
“As for the children, I can’t describe how happy and cheerful they look when they take a school bag with stationary, winter clothes or any other items. They forget all the circumstances around them and just smile for the simplest reason,” Ahmad said recently.
Since March 2013, SOS has directly impacted the lives of nearly 300,000 Syrian children and their family members, many of whom have been forced from their homes and remain in dire need of humanitarian aid. Earlier this year, for example, SOS began its 2015 food distribution program. Through the end of the year, the SOS emergency response team in Syria will deliver food packages every two months to 4,000 vulnerable families across Aleppo, Damascus, Lattakia and Homs. In addition, SOS runs three child-friendly spaces—two in Damascus and one in Aleppo—where kids come during the day to escape the harsh reality of war and participate in organized recreational activities. There are also medical personnel on site to provide psychological counseling to those children who need it.
Among other the responsibilities he has, Ahmad is a member of a team that finds unaccompanied and separated children and integrates them into a temporary shelter that SOS runs outside of Damascus. At the shelter, SOS works to reunite children with their families and in the interim provides them with a safe home, education, food, recreation and a caregiver who looks after their daily needs. SOS currently runs a center near Damascus for 74 children and is planning to open a second one in the Damascus area by mid-April.
Ahmad, who used to study English literature at the University of Damascus, first discovered SOS after he began teaching English to a few of the children living at the SOS Village located in the Qadsaya district of Damascus. He applied for a job with SOS-Syria in March 2013 as a field worker and was soon promoted to team leader for the Rural Damascus region. In 2014, he was voted SOS-Syria Employee of the Year.
When asked recently why he risks his life to do his job, he answered:
"I feel happy and proud to be one of the people who are able to make these children smile and forget the war," he said.