Syria Crisis: "We want to return..."

Syria Crisis: "We want to return..."

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Mary Kate MacIsaac

On a cold and wet spring day in a rural community in north Lebanon, near Tripoli, a woman in sandals greets her visitors and immediately apologizes for the smell. Her family has found refuge in a shelter on a chicken farm. They are staying in what was previously used as a shed for animals.

Khadija and her husband, Mahdi, fled the conflict in Syria two and a half years ago. “Our village was under siege,” explains Hadija. “There was a lot of bombing. We had to leave.” 

When they first arrived in Lebanon, they lived in an apartment, but they could not afford the rent. Now, in exchange for Mahdi’s work on the farm, the owner permits the family to stay in the shed at no extra expense. The family has laid carpet on the cement floor and placed thin mattresses along some of the walls. Stacked in the corner are blankets. Some bags and clothing are hanging on the walls. 

“In the winter, the ceiling leaked, but we fixed it,” Khadija says. “The bathroom doesn’t have a proper wall, so when it rains a lot, the bathroom floor floods.” The family, until recently, didn’t have a toilet. CARE is supporting them with a rehabilitated bathroom, water filter, water tank, and sink.  

“Before we had the filter, the water was sometimes brown and dirty,” says the mother who feels more comfortable using the water for drinking and cooking, now that it can be filtered.

Her husband receives no money for his work on the farm, so on his days off he looks for odd jobs to earn some small income for the family.  

During the winter, the family suffered from the cold. “If we have money, we buy fuel,” Khadija says. “If we don’t have money, we don’t.”  With a heavy sigh she adds, “Everyone has a blanket, though, and we try to cope with it. There’s nothing we can do.  We just try to keep each other warm.”  

They have relatives living on another chicken farm doing similar work. “When we have an opportunity and can afford transport, we visit my husband’s family.” Otherwise, they are here, on the farm and waiting to return home to Syria.

Watching his father go to work each day, Ahmed, 6, says, “When I grow up I want to work with chickens, too.”

Khadija would prefer to send Ahmed to school, but they do not have the financial means. They cannot afford books, transportation, or a school uniform.

“We think about returning,” she hesitates.  “It burns in my heart. I want to return, I want my children to go to school…” But her words trail off, and she wipes away tears she can no longer control. Then she repeats, as if to make it so, “We want to return.”


Khadija with children Omar and Ahmed fled Syria, with husband and father, Mahdi, in late 2012. They found refuge in an old chicken coop near Tripoli, Lebanon, where CARE is supporting them and other Syrian refugees. © 2015 Mary Kate MacIsaac/CARE