Thousands of people in Syria had to answer to this question on the 6th February this year, as the ground shook beneath them.
Following the devastating earthquakes, many families have been left with collapsed walls and piles of rubble where houses, schools and other buildings once stood. Basic infrastructure, everyday appliances and tools for work have been destroyed. Treasured items are broken or missing.
For many, this was not the first time they had had to run for their lives. The brutal conflict in Syria has been raging for 12 years. Over fourteen million people have fled their homes since the conflict broke out. Women and girls have been disproportionately affected.
Recovered from the rubble
In the days after the first earthquake, we spoke to survivors in Syria and asked them to share their stories and the precious items they rescued from the rubble.
Ammar from Homs, father of two
I felt helpless and sad as I looked at my wife and children. I did not know what to do at that moment.
"After being displaced from the city of Homs, I lived in a house in Afrin city [in Aleppo]. When I was awakened by the heavy shaking of the house, I felt helpless and sad as I looked at my wife and children. I did not know what to do at that moment. I carried my daughters who were crying non-stop, and with my wife we all went down to the street. Our neighbours offered us a place to stay with them in their home until the morning.
When I woke up the next day, I went up to our house to find that the walls had partially collapsed and the roof full of big cracks. I carried a few of my children’s and wife’s clothes and a few important items and I ran back down quickly to my family. After a long and arduous trip 150 kilometers away from our house, we arrived here, to Jarablus, to settle in this house. I brought this wooden mortar and pestle for my wife because I knew how much she loved it and how sad she would have been if I hadn’t carried it with me. It is a gift from her grandmother and it means a lot for her."
Shahd, from Bafillur village in northern Aleppo
We awoke to scary sounds and saw our room crumble and turn into a pile of rubble.
My sister and I had our own room. We used to clean it and tidy it up every day, and on special occasions we would put up decorations to celebrate our friends' birthdays inside of it. My family did not have enough money to heat our room, so we usually slept in our parents' room during the cold winter nights, and this is what made us survive inevitable death the day of the earthquake.
During that night, rain and snow were falling and it was very windy, so my sister and I went to sleep in our parents' room where they have a wood fireplace. We awoke to scary sounds and saw our room crumble and turn into a pile of rubble. After digging for a few days, my sister and I managed to get out a few of our things.
Qasem from Homs, father of two
This ring was gifted to me by my friend who died a few years ago, I’ve had it for more than 15 years.
I felt the earthquake as soon as it started. I was living on the second floor and the house was swinging violently. I lived moments of fear and terror as I tried to get my family to safe haven. During those moments all I thought about was how I was going to get my children out of the house. They are my responsibility, and I was going to save them no matter what. I quickly rushed to carry my children on my shoulders along with my wife and we managed to get out to the street, only to find ourselves under the heavy pouring rain in the cruel cold, such harsh weather that I never experienced before.
I managed to recover this box from the house, it is a gift from my father and grandfather, as well as this ring, which was gifted to me by my friend who died a few years ago, I’ve had it for more than 15 years.
Anas, father of two girls
I made [my mother] lean on my shoulder and we walked out of the building as bits and piece of it started falling apart.
I managed to get my family out of the building that was swaying with force. When I got them to the street, I ran back into my mother who lives in an apartment in the same building. I found that she had managed to get out of the house despite being sick and walking with difficulty. I made her lean on my shoulder and we walked out of the building as bits and piece of it started falling apart.
Amira and Shams, 7 and 9
People were on the street, and we were very scared, we felt like our life was going to end at that moment.
We woke up to our parents shouting, telling us to get out of the house. The house was shaking a lot and we felt really scared especially after we started hearing the screams of our neighbours getting louder and seeing the cracks in the walls. I held my sister’s hand and ran to our mother who along with my father got us out of the house. People were on the street, and we were very scared, we felt like our life was going to end at that moment. We stayed under the rain in the harsh cold for hours.
The next day, we asked our father to bring us our drawing notebook and my mother asked him to get some home utensils that belonged to her.
Mohammed, from Afrin in Aleppo
Mohammed’s new-born daughter was nine-days old when the earthquake hit in the early hours of February 6. His daughter did not survive the earthquake, despite Mohammed’s efforts to save her. His wife was suffering from postpartum pain and could barely walk. But they were able to get out of the apartment despite the walls crumbling behind them. Their daughter’s breath slowed down and became fainter, not strong enough to withstand the dust, the pouring rain and the cold gushes of wind. He ran to a hospital, but it was too late.
Mohammed kept his daughter’s clothes, a little stuffed bear that he had bought her, as well as a few other things that he was able to recover from under the rubble. The pair of coffee cups and their saucers that he and his wife drank their morning coffee each morning survived.
Um Khalil, mother of two daughters
This carpet is my most valuable possession because it means a lot to our family.
"In the early moments of the earthquakes, I ran out to the open fields with my husband and daughter. It was cold and fear filled our hearts. All I could think of was my other daughter who lived in Jandaires, I was crying and calling for her.
My daughter and her husband have both survived [the earthquake] and they now live with us in a tent that was set up close to our damaged home. This carpet is my most valuable possession because it means a lot to our family."
People fleeing from crisis need your support
Ammar, Shahd, Qasem, Anas, Amira, Shams, Mohammed and Um Khalil are thankfully all safe for now. They managed to recover some of their most treasured possessions from the rubble – but they have had to leave a lot more behind. And thousands of families in Syria are still in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
The crisis in Syria is just one of many happening right now around the world. Conflict, crises and disasters are forcing record numbers of families from their homes and destroying lives, livelihoods and infrastructure.
In a crisis, CARE delivers emergency supplies such as food, clothing and cash, and makes sure communities have the shelter, healthcare and the protection they need to stay safe. We prioritise the needs of women and girls, as we know that all too often they are the ones most at risk.