Syria crisis: “My youngest son is as old as the war”

Mariam and her 8-year-old son who was born at the same time as the conflict in Syria began

Wearing a velvet dress and a red keffiyeh, Mariam (name changed) sits next to the only cupboard in the small room in which she lives with her four children. She remembers the horrors she lived through since the war in Syria started eight years ago:

Two months before the war started, my husband had a heart attack and died. I was heavily pregnant at the time and gave birth to my son when the conflict started. He is turning eight now, like the war.

Mariam was all by herself, struggling to survive and make ends meet, as a mother of four children. They did not have any money and Mariam started working on a farm. She became the sole caregiver and breadwinner in her family.

Mariam had to take her eldest daughter out of school so she could take care of her baby brother while Mariam was working. She says:

It was so hard for me, but I did not have a choice.

Mariam lived under the constant fear that she would be fired and lose her family’s source of income. She says:

How else would we have survived?  I can endure hunger, but my children can’t.

Today, her oldest daughter works with her on the farm to help provide for the family. Mariam’s other children now stay at home as well, after their school was bombed.

It makes me very sad. My older son can’t even read or write. If he sees a sign on the road, he has to ask his sister to read it for him.

Every person should have a happy childhood. It matters for our future. And I feel so sad that I am unable to give this to my children.

Mariam’s work on the farm is hard. She earns the equivalent of 20 US cents per day – barely enough for her and her children to survive. When she heard about CARE’s support for widows as part of the Syria Resilience Consortium, she immediately applied. She says:

When we received the sheep, my children and I were very happy. We had nothing at all. This meant so much to us. One of the sheep was even pregnant.

Mariam with her sheep in Syria
Mariam with the sheep provided by the Syria Resilience Consortium

Mariam does not have to go and buy milk anymore. The sheep give enough milk for her and her children. In the spring, Mariam plans to shear the sheep and make pillows and mattresses. This will help her earn some extra money. She says:

My only hope for the future is that my children will have a better life. I hope that we will live somewhere where we don’t have to do everything in one small room. More than anything, I hope that my children can go back to school and live the life they deserve.

Eight years of war have left 11.7 million people in Syria in need of humanitarian assistance.

Since 2011, half of the Syrian population fled their homes and became displaced, either inside or outside the country. Women and children have been affected the worst by the crisis.

The war has destroyed over 50 per cent of basic social infrastructure in Syria, and it is estimated that three in four people are not involved in any income-generating activities. The unemployment rate is staggeringly high.

As part of the Syria Resilience Consortium, CARE and other organisations support women through economic empowerment and livelihood programmes.

Since 2016, the consortium has helped over 1 million women in desperate need in Syria.

Like Mariam, Salma was another mother who was struggling to feed her children, until she heard about the support available from the Syria Resilience Consortium. She says:

As soon as I heard about it, I went and registered. When I registered, I told them that I can make yogurt and different types of cheese. They told me: ‘Then this will be your project.’

Salma inside room used to make yoghurt and cheese
Salma now runs her own cheese and yoghurt-making business

Salma received training and a business grant to start her work. She bought a cow and all the necessary tools and equipment. She says:

Looking back at how my life changed now that I have my own cow and my own business, I am just so very happy. I have worked very hard and I succeeded.

“In the past, I used to ask for some milk from the neighbours to give my children. Now, I make my own milk, cheese and yogurt,” she says.

“Through this difficult journey I have learned that a woman should seize every opportunity she gets. I learned that women are strong, but we must fight to provide for our families, especially when we are on our own.”

Now, my only hope is that Syria returns to how it used to be eight years ago. I hope that we would walk in the streets again without being afraid for our lives and that my children will live in peace.

CARE's picture

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