When a 14-Year-Old Has to Make Coffee so His Family Can Survive

When a 14-Year-Old Has to Make Coffee so His Family Can Survive

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Johanna Mitscherlich

When 14-year-old Khaled left his home town Dara’a in the south of Syria nine months ago, life as he knew it ceased to exist. His family house was burnt down as were most of the buildings in his village. Today, things like playing soccer with his friends, helping his father during the wheat harvest and riding his bike to school are nothing but fading memories.

“I don’t like to think about Syria. It makes me sad.” He does not have a lot of time to think of Syria anyway. Since his father is still in Syria and there has been no sign of him for more than a month, Khaled is now the “man of the house” and is expected to take care of his mother, Lina, and his seven siblings.

When they first came to Jordan, Khaled and his family stayed in Zaatari. But his eight-year-old twin sisters have asthma and could not cope with the wind and the sand of the desert surrounding the refugee camp. They moved to Zarqa, an industrial town about 30 minutes away from the capital of Amman.

Khaled works in a coffee shop downtown, 14 hours a day, six days a week. When he starts his job at 6 o’clock in the morning, he cleans the glasses and wipes the shop’s floor, waits for customers and delivers coffee to nearby shops and gas stations. When he returns home from work at around 8 o’clock at night he does not want to do anything but take a shower and watch Indian soap operas on TV.

Khaled has a limp and it is hard for him to be standing and walking all day. Before they left Syria, he was shot in his leg. When their house was burnt down, they stayed in a bunker. After 10 days, they thought it was safe to return and rebuild their home. Khaled’s scarred leg still reminds them they were wrong. He was wounded when they tried to reach their house. Khaled’s mother decided to flee to Jordan so her children would be safe.

“I am tired after work. My leg hurts, I cannot play soccer anymore. Going up and down the stairs to our apartment is as exhausting as running a marathon is for healthy people.” On Friday, his only day off, he sleeps until noon. Khaled earns about $4.00 a day, not quite $95.00 a month. Lina pays the rent for their tiny apartment with this money.

A few days ago, they registered with CARE to receive emergency cash. Khaled’s job just does not make ends meet. “I am really proud of my son,” says Lina. “But I am also worried. He is always nervous, his injury hurts him. More than anything, I feel guilty that he cannot live the life of a normal child. But what else can I do?” Lina’s eyes fill up with tears.

Her youngest child is only 3 years old. Every airplane that flies over the house makes him anxious and cry for hours. None of the children are going to school. The schools they were accepted to attend are too far away and they do not have money to pay the transportation fees. Khaled has already missed two years of school in Syria, almost a year in Jordan. His favorite subject was math.

“I want my children to grow up in Syria. I want them to go to school. I want them to feel safe and have dreams in life,” says Lina. Her son Khaled says that he once had a dream. He wanted to become a scientist. “Now I don’t have any dreams anymore. I don’t want to think about the future. I don’t want life to disappoint me over and over again.”

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Zarqa Khaled, 14, was shot in the leg before fleeing with his mother and seven siblings from Syria to Jordan. Now, he’s on his feet 14 hours a day, six days a week, working in a coffee shop to help his mother make ends meet.