Nesreen, a mother of four from rural Damascus, continues to live with the effects of the 10-year conflict in Syria. Since war broke out, everything has changed for her and her family of six.
“I remember one dark afternoon when the sounds of explosions started rising all around us. Moving to the nearest basement in the neighborhood to hide with my little children was as risky as staying in our house,” Nesreen, now 39, says.
“I thought, ‘if we’re going to die today, then let it be right here, in our home.’ Nothing will ever erase those memories from my heart and mind.”
Every day in Syria is a struggle to survive. Like so many other Syrian women Oxfam works with, Nesreen struggles to put enough food on the table to feed her family.
Two years ago, life gradually returned to normal in Nesreen’s town. For the first time in almost seven years — her husband found work, the family started to fix the damage to their house, and the children returned to school. However, the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the collapse of the Syrian pound (and the spillover from the financial crisis in Lebanon) has pushed more and more Syrians to the brink.
Skyrocketing prices of food and people’s inability to afford the most essential food items have meant women are reverting to extreme strategies to cope, such as eating fewer meals each day or being forced to buy cheaper, less nutritious food.
‘We have had to cut down on the types of food we buy as well as so many other needs like clothing. It might be safer now, but the economic situation is unbearable."
“I’m dying inside when my youngest daughter needs her medication and I can’t afford it,” she says.
For thousands of families like Nesreen’s across Syria the situation is getting worse. The World Food Programme recently found 12.4 million Syrians are going to sleep hungry, an increase of over 3 million people from 2020. Between 2019 and 2020 food insecurity increased a massive 42 per cent. In the same year, 80 per cent of Syrians were living below the poverty line. The economic crisis is hitting people affected by the war in Syria across the region. In conversations between Oxfam staff and Syrian women in Jordan, Lebanon, and across Syria, two-thirds indicated they were the most concerned about finding food for their families.
“I’m afraid I will wake up one day to find nothing to fill the stomachs of my little children,” Nesreen says.
The conflict in Syria has taken away nearly everything from Tahani and her family. “When war broke out in Syria, I lost contact with my ex-husband,” she says. “To this day, no one knows whether he’s still alive or dead. I am supporting our six little children by myself. As the war dragged on, we lost almost everything; our house, our crops, and the modest life we once had.”
Eventually, she and her children had to flee the fighting near their home in rural Aleppo. “Staying in our town became too dangerous. We had to go and leave everything behind, moving from one town to another for five years."
“Three years ago, we returned home and all I could think of was how to start over. I thought I had survived the worst. I survived the conflict, I was forced to leave my home, and I lived through a bad divorce, but nothing is compared to how I’m living now with my children,” Tahani says of the economic crisis afflicting Syria."
Tahani is now working on a farm to support her family, but she fears for their future if the war does not end. “This war turned our lives upside down, and today, after 10 years of war, I still cannot imagine leading a normal life.”
In collaboration with partner organizations in Syria, Oxfam is currently working in eight of Syria’s 14 governorates to prevent the spread of diseases by promoting good hygiene practices in schools and by training local community volunteers. We distribute food where needed and support farmers to grow food and make a living through training, and distribute cash to people who need it the most.
Oxfam in Syria strives to ensure that our aid programs address the needs of women, encourage their leadership and their active participation in community decision-making as well as in peace talks. In 2018, Oxfam helped bring Syrian women activists and leaders to meet with senior international diplomats during a conference in Brussels on the future of Syria.
There are approximately 5.6 million Syrian refugees. Oxfam and partners in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey are assisting Syrian refugees in camps and communities hosting them. We are providing clean water, soap and other hygiene items, and cash to help people buy food as well as training programs to help people find employment.
In the meantime, women continue to work to meet the needs of their families with the help of Oxfam and our partners. For Lubana, 65, who fled her home in rural Damascus for five years and has returned, getting back to her pre-war life is proving difficult.
“Our life revolves around farming,” she says. “Before the war, we made a good income from our land. And we could afford a modest but comfortable life. When war broke out we had to flee our hometown… When we finally got the chance to return home, we found everything had gone.”
The economic crisis has hit Lubana hard. “The past year has been extremely tough. We had to cut down on our expenses and reduce the size of our food portions. In these rough times, we can’t help but feel broken.
“Today, after 10 years of war, I still can’t see an ending to all our suffering. I hope one day my children will have a better life than the one I’m having.”