Syrian Refugees: Warm Hearts in the Cold Winter

Syrian Refugees: Warm Hearts in the Cold Winter

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Mahmoud Shabeeb

In the northern Jordanian city Irbid, lives Leila, a 60 year-old woman who fled Daraa, Syria more than two years ago when the heavy bombing of her neighborhood was too much to bear. “We survived death,” says Leila. “Everyone who made it was meant to live longer.” Leila’s son was shot dead outside their house in Daraa. A few months later during Ramadan, his wife was shot inside the house while the family was breaking their fast. She died immediately leaving Leila with six orphan children to take care of. “She got shot over the table while we were eating,” says Leila of her daughter in law.

Leila has been living in the same apartment since she fled to Jordan. The walls in her apartment are covered with mold and there is no heating. Yet, Leila speaks extensively of the warmth and generosity of her neighbors. “The people in this neighborhood are good,” says Leila. “When we first got here we slept on the floor. For a month we had nothing at all. People helped us with the little furniture we have, little by little. But we do not have a heater and this will be the third winter that we spend here. Every year when the weather starts to get cold we just cover ourselves with blankets and sleep.” Leila suffers from diabetes and blood pressure and cannot afford medication. The cold weather has implications for her health. “It is getting very cold these days,” says Leila. “Every time I feel cold, I start feeling aches all over my body. I think to myself: ‘I do not want to die yet, I want to die in Syria.’”

In early December, news broke that the UN World Food Programme  (WFP)  would suspend food voucher distributions to refugees, a decision that will deprive as many as 1.7 million Syrian refugees in the region from their main source of food, and in many cases like Leila’s, the only source. “We have been completely dependent on the UN’s food vouchers to eat,” says Leila. “I heard on TV that the vouchers are being cut. These vouchers have been helping people survive. What shall we do if we do not receive them anymore? Die of hunger? Then we might as well just go back to Syria and die there with dignity. It would not make a difference to die of hunger or under bombardment; so at least we should die in our homeland.”

Leila registered with CARE a few months ago. “I heard about CARE from our Syrian neighbors who had received help from the organization,” says Leila. For a long time, Leila was skeptical to register with aid organizations for security concerns. “I met many Syrian refugees like myself who have received aid because they were registered with CARE, so I registered as well. I received mattresses and I am now waiting to receive a payment for my grandchildren.” One of Leila’s orphan grandchildren, Mariam, is in the fifth grade. “Mariam goes to school without money to buy herself something to eat during breaks,” says Leila. “She says to me: ‘I see the other girls buying food and drinks from around the school but I cannot afford that.’” Leila has one wish. “My biggest and only wish is to go back to Syria,” says Leila. “This is all what I wish for.”

* All names in the story have been changed.

Written by Mahmoud Shabeeb, Regional Communications Officer for the Syria Response.


Zeina, 8 years old, is Leila's granddaughter. Zeina's father was shot outside his house in Daraa. A few months later during the fasting month of Ramadan, Zeina's mother was shot dead while they were breaking their fast at home. © Photo: Mahmoud Shabeeb/CARE