Hanah* is a mother of six children, three boys and three girls, with the youngest one being only three years old. She has experienced the challenges of repeated displacement multiple times due to the war, and six months ago her house was severely damaged by the earthquakes that shook Türkiye and Northwest Syria. Today, she lives in a village near Idlib with her 5 younger children, while her older daughter is in Türkiye. This is her testimony about what she has been through from the moment the earthquakes struck until today.
February 6, 2023: “Fear overwhelmed me.”
“When the earthquake started in the middle of the night, I was breastfeeding my baby, who was sick. It was a very scary experience; we did not know where to go or where to take refuge. I tried to wake my children up so we could gather, but it was difficult to grab all of them at once. Fear and tension overwhelmed me.
Fear and tension overwhelmed me. The sound of the earthquake was combined with the sound of heavy falling rain. Water left us drenched as we joined other people who were running in panic outside their houses to the open fields.
There was no safe place to seek shelter, so we just followed the crowd to the open fields away from buildings and we kept walking until we reached a camp. There, I found a family I knew, and we sought comfort in their tent, trying to console one another.
The first few hours my mind was also preoccupied with my eldest daughter and her whereabouts in Türkiye, especially after I heard where the epicentre of the earthquake was. With communication lines cut off, uncertainty filled my heart about the luck of my family members. But I had to remain calm and not show my panic to my children, my maternal instincts pushed me to preserve my composure”.
“I was living in fear in every sense of the word.”
“For the next three days, we stayed in the tent provided by that generous family. On the third day, I found the courage to return and assess the state of our house. The scene was devastating, everything was destroyed. The authorities had sent us a notice to evacuate the house, as they were planning to demolish the severely damaged buildings, including ours.
I was consumed by thoughts and questions such as how could I ensure the safety of my children from now on? Where would we stay? Will we ever find a place to call home again? How will we rebuild our lives?
The tent in the camp had very little to offer. I was constantly worried about the safety of my young daughters. We lacked essentials, we did not even have a mattress to sleep on and my children had to sleep on the floor, wrapped in blankets. Not being able to stand this reality anymore, after a while, I decided to go back to the room we used to live in, no matter what. So, I did, I went back, and I rearranged the room and everything. But another earthquake happened just when I put my children inside it to get them back on track with their lessons so they could go back to school.
When this aftershock happened the trauma from the first earthquakes resurfaced, affecting particularly the mental health of my boys. We moved back to the camp.
One of my sons was particularly affected. He cried whenever I took them to school, fearing that an earthquake would occur while I was away. He refused to leave my side. I attempted to school them myself, but it was very challenging to do so.
At that time, Shafak, a CARE partner organization who runs activities for women and children in the camp, informed us about a space where we, mothers, and children, could go to seek support and advice on how to cope and deal with the children's emotional trauma. I attended several sessions, and this space was truly helpful. I felt relief from stress and that I was valued. ”
Today: “I want to support my children without relying on anyone else's assistance”
“Life in the camp was very difficult. There was not enough space to accommodate all of us and it was difficult to stay there when the temperatures started rising since the beginning of summer. Moreover, there was no transportation to the city and the camp was far away. Most of the time, I had to walk despite the pain I suffer from, due to disc and joint inflammation in my knee. Financial difficulties that followed the earthquake forced us to move into my husband's family house, where we basically live all together inside a large room. We do not have our own kitchen or bathroom, and we have learned to accept this reality and carry on with our lives. We do not have another option. Our living conditions are very difficult.
To provide for my children, I am taking any job opportunity that comes up and I am seeking aid from humanitarian organizations. But sometimes it is very hard.
There have been times I have resorted to selling portions of our food baskets to cover other needs. The majority of people in this area are suffering from poverty and deteriorating mental health.
My children's needs are my top priority, even though during the session provided by Shafak, I learned about the importance of taking care of myself as well. I love my children dearly and aspire to provide them with a better life, including secure housing, education, and anything that ensures their well-being.
At present, I can barely meet 40% of my family's needs. My hope is that with time, I will be able to provide everything I wish for my children. I continue my studies, aspiring to obtain a better job with a stable income. I want to support my children without relying on anyone else's assistance.”
*Names have been changed to protect identity
CARE and its partner in Northwest Syria, Shafak, are providing much-needed protection services to those affected by the earthquake. CARE places the specific needs and rights of women and girls at the heart of all we do.