Searching For Family In Idleb City, Syria

*Muhamad

Save the Children Aid Worker

Idleb, Syria

April 2, 2015

It was Friday evening when I got the call. My family inside Idleb city wanted me to help them get out, to escape the fighting and airstrikes. It was two days before I was finally able to get there and in that time I could not speak to them as all the lines were down. I didn’t sleep those two nights. Sunday morning I was in a car with two of my friends, all of us searching for our families who we had lost contact with, going back to our home city that we had not seen for more than two years.

The journey to Idleb felt so long because we were so silent thinking about how the city would look. We held our breath as we crossed deserted check points. We were three grown men in a car with eyes full of tears shouting, “We are here; we are inside our city; we are finally here.”

Syria_blog

(Photo not from Idleb)

All around were destroyed tanks and cars, holes gaping in the sides of the buildings. After a few streets we drove past the main fuel station that had been destroyed by an airstrike. Then we reached a hospital in the city center that was still on fire after having been hit by an airstrike; it was here that those caught in the latest fighting were brought, the injured and the dead.

Finally I arrived at my street. With teary eyes, I jumped the stairs and knocked at my door full of happiness. ‘Open the door, it is me, I am back!’ But there is no response. Sitting on the stairs I feel hopeless wondering, ‘Where are they? Are they safe? Is Lara my niece crying and waiting for me to come back as I always promised I would?’

Disappointed with myself for being late, I struggle down the stairs. As I reach the street, I see three dead bodies left on the pavement in front of my house.

Driving around the city in an attempt to find my family I stop at a number of schools that now stand abandoned although you can still see the children’s drawings attached to the fence. I met three teachers I knew who were very concerned about their relatives and their students. A teacher said to me with a sigh, ‘Do you know Mohammed R? His child is a student in my class. Their house was destroyed by an airstrike yesterday night; I don’t know what happen to them. I hope they are alive.’

As we stood watching a group of children in the street, another of the teachers said, ‘Poor children, they have lost everything. They lost their happiness, their education, and their dreams! Who is going to help them.’ He did not know that I am now working for Save the Children.

I kept driving and saw the fear on the faces of people staring up at the sky and a few minutes later, I heard a big explosion close by. Driving away, I saw a family of three adults and five children squeezing themselves into a small car. All the children were crying and a woman was saying to a girl of about seven and a boy of about five, ‘My dears don’t cry, the aircraft is far from us.’ Once they were in the car they left, one of the many families fleeing the city for somewhere a little bit safer. Moving out the city are trucks and cars filled with people, searching for somewhere to stay. Many are moving in with extended family members, into collective shelters, others into makeshift camps on farmland in the hope of safety that in Syria is always so elusive.

Most of the services in the city have stopped, although a few shops are open and some organisations are providing emergency food and other help. One of my friends is a doctor, and he said that because there is no electricity throughout the city he is worried about the vaccines stored in the medical stores. Another friend’s sisters told me that the government building where all the students’ records are stored is in an area where there is frequent shelling and airstrikes. If these are lost, what happens to those children’s futures?

Since the fighting in Idleb started over two weeks ago all children have stopped school and amongst the thousands of people who have already fled Idleb are many teachers. My sister is one of these. She is worried about how and when she will be able to start her work again. All these teachers need a way to support their families and are now looking for other sources of income. Education is so important to people in Idleb, and before this latest fighting attendance at the schools in the city was very high – at odds with much of the rest of the country. Education is what parents tell me is one of their major concerns for their children. But with teachers and families dispersing, schools filling up with displaced families, or even targeted in the fights, where will these children go and who will teach them.

Finally after driving through my city for hours, I go back to my house hoping that my family might be there. They weren’t but a neighbor tells me that they managed to leave the city and are now in a town two hours away. I have still not seen my niece Lara, my sister or the rest of my family but at least I know that for now they are safe.

* is a pseudonym

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