Life – The Greatest Value of All


Haleemah survived the conflict in Syria. Now she struggles to live in safety in Jordan.

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© 2013 CARE

The door opens hesitantly after several knocks. A shy face appears, inviting the CARE team to enter with a friendly yet distant smile. Haleemah Drar Al-Ali sits on a thin mattress, wearing a green dress and a loosely tied head scarf. She lives here in Mafraq, northern Jordan, with her brother Mohammad, his wife and their two children. All of them fled from the village of Dara'a – the area where the conflict in Syria flared up almost two years ago.

"I came to Jordan last year in August. My village was bombed, and from what I heard, all of the houses are destroyed," she says. As a single woman of 37 years she crossed the border alone one night. An exhausting journey, given that Haleemah is handicapped and can only walk with a crutch.

"When I was 1 year old, one of my legs became paralyzed," she explains and looks to the wall, where the crooked iron crutch waits.

Haleemah, her brother and his family were poor even before they came to Jordan. As refugees they struggle even more to survive. "We have nothing. My brother tried to find employment as a day laborer, but often he works more than 12 hours a day and gets paid very little."

Mohammed had a physical breakdown at the end of last year and is recovering slowly. Adding to the physically strenuous labor and the hidden trauma, the daily pressure of feeding his family was too much for him to bear.

"He saw many neighbors being killed in Dara'a," Haleemah says softly. When Mohammad lost his strength, the family lost its income too. "We were not able to afford the rent last month. Now, the landlord asked us to pay in advance for the coming six months, but we have no money. How shall we pay?" Haleemah asks with desperation in her voice.

Shoeless on the icy floor

The family possesses not a single piece of furniture. No bed, no cupboard, no sofa, nothing but several mattresses lying on the floor, covered by woolen, flower-patterned blankets. They were donated by a local organization. It's cold and damp – realities of the harsh winter in Jordan. The single kerosene heater battles against the fresh breeze creeping through the concrete floor and drafty window frames.

Aryam and Kalid, Haleemah's niece and nephew, squat on the icy floor, shoeless. The children are afraid, shivering every time they hear fireworks cracking outside on the streets. "It reminds them of the daily bombing," says Haleemah.

The Syrian family lacks everything: food, clothes, household items, money. Often they cannot afford to buy water and use what pours out of the tap instead. "The children have become sick and suffer regularly from diarrhea," the 37-year old tells the CARE team visiting Mafraq to assess the situation of the refugees.

Since the conflict broke out almost two years ago, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have come to Jordan to seek safety. While many find shelter in the refugee camps, the majority head into the poor suburbs of cities like Amman, Irbid or Mafraq.

"It is difficult to collect a comprehensive picture of the urban refugees in terms of numbers. But it is obvious that many of them need assistance," says Ruba Saleh, who works with CARE's Syrian refugee response team. "By listening to the refugees, we find out what they need and can plan our emergency response accordingly."

At the end of last year, CARE opened an assistance center in East Amman where refugees receive mattresses, heaters, blankets and cash to help pay for rent and other needs. More than 20,000 Syrians have received assistance from CARE since 2012. The word about CARE's efforts has spread like wildfire; refugees living outside of Amman arrive daily to ask for help. "With more funding, we hope to open similar centers in cities like Mafraq so people do not need to drive long distances", Ruba says.

While Haleemah and her family need support in all ways, they are relieved to be alive. "Although our lives are miserable, although we have no money, we have survived the violence in Syria. We are safe here," her brother Mohammad says with a sad expression on his face. His wife, Wala'a, is seven months pregnant and with no end to the conflict in Syria in sight, the child will be born in Jordan. A refugee child born in safety, yet with an uncertain future.

By Sandra Bulling, CI Communications Officer, February 2013