Winter in Syria, from a voice on the ground

A person uses a broom to try and clear the snow away from their damaged tent.

What is it like to serve in Syria right now, when winter brings freezing temperatures and heavy flooding, COVID‑19 is on the rise, and political conflict limits the transport of humanitarian aid in the places that need it most?

Mercy Corps’ regional teams throughout Syria have been hard at work preparing for this brutal season for many months. Winterisation efforts include building essential “WASH” (water, sanitation and hygiene) systems, gravelling roads and preparing “NFI” kits (non-food items) — like tarps, blankets, fuel, hygiene supplies — for new arrivals.

Most of Mercy Corps’ global team members are from the countries in which they serve. More than three quarters of those working in Syria are themselves displaced from their homes. One Syrian team member, whose identity cannot be shared due to security risks, describes their experience. In order to honour this team member’s voice, their language is unaltered:

“To work in the humanitarian field inside a country like Syria, you have to work heart and soul. We can't separate our senses from our surroundings.”

A person stands on a muddy road after a heavy rainstorm in salah al-din camp.
A muddy road after a heavy rainstorm in Salah al-Din camp, Northwestern Syria. Copyright: Qusai Shabib for Mercy Corps

“When I get into camps, I smell clearly coal, waste and wood burning. These smells affect these people's lives but they would not be compared to the smell of death that they suffered from when they left their homes.”

An individual uses sheep dung to light their stove.
In Northwestern Syria, a woman uses sheep dung to light her stove. Copyright: Qusai Shabib for Mercy Corps

“In Syria we lose sometimes the taste of food and life but we can't lose the taste of giving that sweetens our life.”

Two individuals sit in front of their tent in al-rayyan camp while speaking with an adult.
A mother, father and son sit in front of their tent in Al-Rayyan camp in Northwestern Syria. Copyright: Qusai Shabib for Mercy Corps

“Those sounds of rain falling at night that bring tranquility for every human being on earth will not let me forget that they cause great pain for people living in camps.”

An adult washes clothes, while children sit at the door of their tent in kalli camp.
A mother washes clothes while her children sit at the door of their tent. Copyright: Qusai Shabib for Mercy Corps
Tents align flooded pathways in al-rayyan camp after a large storm struck the area northwest of idlib.
Northwestern Syria. Al-Rayyan camp is flooded after a large storm. Copyright: Qusai Shabib for Mercy Corps

“What we see can't pass in front of our eyes easily. These pictures keep in my mind, making contradictory feelings. That scene of a child walking barefoot affects my soul harshly but that smile we make on his face after every distribution [of food and supplies] gives me some peace.”

Two children look out the small window of their family’s tent, after a huge rainstorm hit al-rayyan camp in the area northwest of idlib.
Two brothers look out the small window of their family’s tent, after a huge rainstorm hit Al-Rayyan camp in the area northwest of Idlib. Copyright: Qusai Shabib for Mercy Corps

“Thanking words from people living there brings peace into my ear, heart and soul.”

An elderly adult sits with their hands clasped.
This woman was forced to leave her home empty-handed when violence erupted in her village. Mercy Corps is distributing clean water in her Northwest Syria camp.

“To see the sufferings of my own people and to be able to help them keeps me having this contradictory life. Humanitarian work in Syria links my feelings of happiness and sadness to how much we might give and help.”

A person holds a child in front of their mother's home.
Northeastern Syria, 2019. A mother holds her daughter in front of their home. Mercy Corps distributed food baskets to help people in this area who were forced to flee when ISIS invaded.

The best of the humanitarian spirit

We deeply appreciate the work and words of this team member. Northwest Syria Director Max Baldwin echos: “The colleagues who I work alongside in the field, they are affected the same as the families that we are serving. They have been displaced too by the war, all of the colleagues. They have lost family members in the war too. And when it is cold, freezing, snowing, when there is still a COVID pandemic in the area, they are still in the field every day representing Mercy Corps and serving the population. They all show the best of the humanitarian spirit.”

This winter, COVID‑19 makes our work in Syria much more challenging, and more crucial, than ever before. The expertise and compassion of our global teams, in combination with our supporter community’s generosity and willingness to take action, mean that we can continue to make a difference for the people of Syria in urgent need.

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