Diary from Syria: To live or die with dignity

A bomb-damaged building in eastern Aleppo

By Mohammed al Ahmed,* an aid worker with CARE partner organisation Shafak, in Idlib, Syria (Idlib is 60km southwest of Aleppo)

Every night, my family falls asleep to the sound of bombing and mortars. One night last week, eight aerial strikes hit nearby, shaking our home.

And just like every day, the next morning, as if normal, I left the house, saying goodbye to my wife and children, but knowing there was a chance one of us might be killed that day.

My children still go to school despite the continued bombings and other hazards of war. There have been at least 38 attacks on schools in Syria since the beginning of 2016. One of these, at the end of October, killed 35 people, 22 of them children.

Whatever the circumstances, my children will continue to advance their learning, although we fear there is a government policy intent on spreading ignorance, depriving the new generation of an education. The best response then is to insist our children attend school, ensuring they pursue an education.

Everywhere Idlib is exposed to bombing – at any minute, in our work places, on the roads, in the schools or hospitals… Nowhere is safe.

Before the war, I was an agricultural engineer. When the crisis grew more severe, many people lost their jobs, unemployment increased.

When I lost my job, I sought opportunities in the humanitarian sector, which was only in its infancy in Syria. Before the crisis there were no humanitarian organisations apart from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

Helping people also gives them hope

Using my specialisation in agriculture, I wanted to help my people, especially in Idlib where we had a strong agricultural sector before the war. Now, as an aid worker with Shafak, a Syrian humanitarian organisation, I focus on assisting communities, distributing food vouchers, agricultural equipment, and livestock, helping farmers maintain their land and livelihood.

We also provide small businesses with assistance, helping people establish hair salons, tailor shops, mobile maintenance repair, butcher shops, and bakeries.

In the face of ongoing conflict, improved resilience can bring people hope, not just tomorrow, but for the long term. We need this.

By the end of 2012, a huge decrease in currency rates and a significant increase in prices and unemployment made the economic impact of the crisis all too evident. When a village is bombed, the people are displaced to another village, meaning the workforce in the first area will be absent until they feel it is safe to return. A while ago two cash workers, day labourers who dared stay behind, were killed in a bombing.

This can happen at any moment. People have reason to flee, but many risk their lives for a job.

We have been risking our lives for a long time, though. I still remember vividly, May 2011, when the army fired upon peaceful demonstrators, and then committed mass killings in my village and others.

These events are burned in the mind. To witness the loss of loved ones in war has been a cause of great sadness.

When we were displaced in January 2013, the army executed my cousin who wanted to remain in the village. He was shot with 40 other people. My wife’s 95-year old grandmother was executed the same day, among other relatives. My uncle, too, was shot dead. Many people we know were killed in this conflict.

As a father, though, the most heartbreaking thing has been my own inability to assuage my children’s fears.

With the sound of every bomb, they cry inconsolably, and I can do nothing to convince them that they are safe. At night, amidst bombs, and fighting back tears, they finally succumb to sleep.

Life needs to go on

Despite these dark nights, though, we need to live, life needs to go on. We have to face these difficult circumstances because life must continue. This is our home, this is where we will continue to live with dignity, or die with dignity.

As our friends, brothers and sisters in humanity, I ask that you try to fathom, to feel the magnitude of the Syrian people’s suffering.

The world has not witnessed a catastrophe like this crisis in decades. The world must take a stance against the killing of innocent people.

As Syrians living in their country and feeling the weight of the ongoing war, we ask you to call upon your government and others in power to pressure the warring parties, including Russia, to stop aerial attacks, to spare people the death and fear they are facing every moment.

Help us by supporting Syrians’ education, thus countering a prevalence of ignorance in the next generations.

Help us by pushing the Syrian regime to stop displacing people, and changing the demographics of Syria; to end the sieges; and to release innocent people from detention.

These are dark days, but do not give up on Syria. Continue to show your support, providing aid to our country, responding to a scale of suffering larger than the imagination allows.

Hold us in your thoughts, put yourselves in our shoes, imagine what the children continue to endure. None of them deserve this fate.

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*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the author.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.