Syria – February 7 2024

Syria earthquake - a year after

In this interview, Alaa AlKousa, the Emergency Response Manager at SOS Children's Villages in Syria, provides insights into the aftermath of the earthquake that struck northern Syria and Turkey one year ago. Having been on the ground when the disaster unfolded, she shares the challenges faced and the progress made in the ongoing relief initiatives undertaken by SOS Children's Villages.  

When comparing the current situation to that of a year ago, what has been achieved for the children and families affected by the earthquake?

Last year, the situation became increasingly challenging as the number of affected people was rising daily. The demand grew, and according to the HNO 2024 for Syria, the number of people in need increased to 16.7 million.

The earthquakes uprooted hundreds of thousands of families, resulting in almost 5,900 deaths, more than 12,800 injuries in Syria and infrastructures being severely damaged. Many families lost their main breadwinner due to death or injury.

The earthquake occurred during an already dire economic situation, heightening the vulnerability of millions unable to meet basic needs.

The high need in all sectors increased the number of vulnerable people, with 45% of those in need being children. SOS Children's Villages in Syria supports these families to ensure children are not at risk of being separated from their parents and are living in a dignified environment that upholds their rights. We worked on strengthening the community to ensure children and young people are living in a healthy environment.

What was the focus of SOS Children's Villages' humanitarian action and how many people were you able to support?

SOS Children's Villages in Syria has been focusing on providing both short and long-term support to families affected by the earthquake. The immediate response addressed the emergency needs of those staying in shelters, involving the distribution of kits for newborns, hygiene kits, and school bags. This rapid assistance aimed to meet basic life needs amid high market prices and scarce items.

The long-term response involves supporting 180 families towards self-reliance after the earthquake, offering services covering health, food, education, legal support, rent, and other necessities.

SOS Children’s Villages in Syria will support 70 families with income generating activities to establish a reliable source of income. Additionally, families will receive training on child rights, parental care skills, the importance of education, and other relevant topics to enhance childcare.

Our Community Support Activities focus on strengthening the community through various initiatives. Child rights are a key topic, and it is important to protect children and young people from any potential harm. This is why we will work with parents and teachers to provide training on positive disciplinary measures on how to interact with children. Through this approach, we can identify parents requiring additional support who will then receive 12 sessions on parental care skills. A mobile team will conduct awareness and capacity-building sessions for teachers, children, and parents within the community and schools.

SOS Children's Villages in Syria was able to reach 3930 participants in shelters through the distribution of kits (hygiene, newly born children kits, and school bags), distributing milk, and different non-food items. 148 children in schools were trained and informed about their rights to raise awareness, while positive disciplinary measures awareness sessions were conducted for 90 parents and 16 teachers.

Is there any success story you remember most vividly? If you are looking back at the work of this past year, what are you most proud of?

The earthquake wasn't something we expected to happen, and people wanted to support those who lost everything and their beloved ones. Having the chance to be there in the field and interacting directly with people made me realize once again how crucial the work we are doing for children and families is. One person can make a difference and being part of an organization that makes a difference in someone's life is something I am proud of.

The smiles on the children's faces in the shelters when interacting with them, despite them having lost their homes, were priceless.

I recall a story when we were distributing kits for newly born children in shelters. A mother couldn't be present during the distribution, but her sister informed us that she lived in the shelter with a newborn, 11 days old. We promised to return for her to distribute the kit. After finalizing the distribution plan and before wrapping up, we went back to her. She responded when she saw us “I didn’t expect you to come all the way back for one person and that person is me. No one ever came back for me.” In that moment, we felt the impact of our work and that we were able to reduce their suffering.