For the final instalment of my deployment diary, I am not going to write about my day. Anything I have to say pales into insignificance compared to the story of Suzanne, who we met today.
Suzanne is a 29-year-old mother of 6. They first left their home in the Aleppo Governorate when it fell under ISIS control, her and her husband did not think it was safe for their children. However, ISIS would not let her leave, she was too young. She had to use a fake ID card and wear a niqab to escape.
They made it to Beirut where her husband got a job in construction. Tragically her husband fell off of a roof whilst working. He died an hour later.
She made the difficult decision to take her husband’s body back to their hometown in Syria to bury him. When they arrived it was a ghost town. The conflict has destroyed most of the homes and there were only scorpions there. Suzanne had to help dig her husband’s grave.
Once he was laid to rest, with no home in Syria, they had to once again try and escape to Lebanon. However, by this point, it had become harder to leave Syria. She and her 6 children had to walk across mountains, she carried her 2-month-old baby in her arms and her one-and-half-year-old toddler on her shoulders. The other four children walked with her for days. It was the start of winter when they left. A month later, another family attempted to walk the exact same route, over the mountains to Lebanon, and they froze to death.
Her and her family had become refugees for a second time, but this time, without her husband. Now they live in a tent near the Syrian border, with only a stove to keep them warm. Syria Relief’s partner’s URDA have recently provided them with a new, safer, stove after two of her children suffered bad burns from the old one.
However, she struggles for work. Her two oldest children, at just 11 and 10, are the breadwinners. They have to sell bottles of water to cars at traffic lights in the nearby town. On a good day they make about $2. “It is dangerous” Suzanne tells us “the people abuse them, they think we are bad people, they judge us.” However, she needs the money to live. She tries to get work cleaning homes, but with the current economic crisis in Lebanon, it is not easy to find work.
The children still go to school, but they are very tired as they have to work selling bottles to cars after. The 10-year-old was top of his class, but now his grades are slipping due to exhaustion and malnutrition. They are in over $400 of debt at the grocer, who takes pity on them and allows them to sometimes have food they cannot afford.
“I am so ashamed” Suzanne tells us “sometimes, all my children want is a biscuit, but I cannot afford it. I wish I could swap places with my husband. If I were dead and he were alive, my children would have a better life.”
Syrians need your help, desperately. Unfortunately, Suzanne is the rule, not the exception. This week we have heard many more stories like hers. Some have been lucky enough to escape the conflict, but they have not been able to escape the harsh winter months in the Lebanese mountains.
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