Cat Carter, Head of Humanitarian Information & Communications
Save the Children UK
October 16, 2013
first met Sami*, 12, in a Save the Children supported school in Lebanon. His
quick smile and easy manner meant he quickly endeared himself to the staff
there, and the visiting Save the Children research team, of which I was
invited us back to his home, to meet his mother and siblings. We checked with
our security team – this area of Lebanon is considered ‘high risk’ due to
frequent clashes and car bombs, so all staff movement is monitored closely. We
received clearance and set off, moving slowly through busy marketplace. We
pulled up to Sami’s home – it’s a small garage.
multiple greetings were completed, we slipped off our shoes and sat on the cold
concrete floor to chat. Slowly, we pieced together Sami’s story.
came from Syria one month ago….”. He paused, and looks intently at the wall,
wondering how to explain what life was like in Syria for him and his siblings.
Finally he shrugged and said simply “the situation was black and difficult.”
mother Amira* steps in to continue the story. Prior to their arrival in
Lebanon, Sami’s family moved around, leaving their urban hometown when the
conflict intensified – at one point snipers were targeting people trying to
fetch food and water – and arrived in a rural village, where they thought they
would be safe. That village subsequently came under attack, and the whole
family were trapped there for a full month, unable to leave and unable to get
supplies in. Food became very scarce. When the shelling and shooting began each
day, most villagers ran to a cave for shelter, but it was far from Sami's*
house, so instead they climbed into a large sewage pipe nearby.
their lowest point the family were surviving on one cucumber and some tomatoes
each. “The worst time was three days at the end when we were surrounded. We
slept hungry – my brother and sisters and I. Shelling was happening at the same
time. There was no gas, so when we had a little flour my mother tried to
make some bread burning plastic bags and paper for fuel.”
is a bleak picture and Amira* shakes her head sadly. She explains to us that
she is deeply ashamed of their situation in Lebanon, and likened their life in
Syria to the situation facing Somalia in the height of the famine in 2011,
recalling that she watched with pity as Somali mothers were interviewed on
television to raise money for humanitarian aid. She said that she was now in
the same situation.
explained that it wasn’t just money we wanted from the world – we were also
pushing for unfettered humanitarian access into Syria, so that Save the
Children and other aid agencies could deliver life-saving food, water and
medicine to those who needed it the most. Amira just smiled sadly and gently
asked us to stay to eat a little food with them. We played with the children,
taking it in turns to blow up brightly coloured balloons and release them,
desperately trying to catch them, and failing every time. Before long I was
breathless with laughter but when I said goodbye to Sami and Amira, I left
their home with a profound sense of sadness. Amira simply didn’t believe
it was possible to get humanitarian aid into Syria in any meaningful way. She
didn’t think it was possible, that those trapped in heavy conflict zones inside
Syria were beyond help.
want to prove her wrong.
*all names have been changed to protect identities
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