Aicha gazes out the window, her crystal blue eyes taking in the gray sky outside a hospital near the Syrian border in Jordan, where she has been recovering for a month now. She was badly injured after her house in Dara’a, Syria was destroyed in a mortar attack.
Her losses are incalculable. Two of her sons – 30 and 15 years old – were killed. Her 17-year-old daughter, also killed. Another son and her grandchild were injured. She is not sure where they are, perhaps in the nearby Za’atari refugee camp, along with one of her daughters who survived uninjured?
Aicha’s tears flow hard as she recounts what has happened. The day of the attack, she and her family were packing to flee, having decided the dangers were too great to stay any longer. In the end, they stayed too long.
Outside her room, 16-year-old Saja cries out in pain. She is lying in a post-op area, gripping hard to her mother’s hand. Saja’s house, also in Dara’a, was hit by a mortar two months ago. Her right foot had to be amputated and her left leg became infected following a tibia fracture. Her father and four siblings all now live in Za’atari camp.
It’s difficult to fathom how people can sustain and survive so much loss?
The Syrian conflict has created the largest humanitarian crisis in the world today: some 4 million Syrians currently are in need of humanitarian assistance, about 1.5 million of them having fled mostly to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
At Za’atari camp, where more than 100,000 Syrians are living in temporary shelter, I meet 21-year-old Ala’, who worked in a beauty salon in Dara’a and is volunteering with International Medical Corps at a Youth Empowerment Center it operates with UNICEF. Children at the center engage in activities that help them recover from their painful experiences. Case managers and psychologists screen the most at-risk children for further mental health interventions. In addition, they address protection and safety issues in the camp, working to reduce risks to those most vulnerable.
Ala’ tells me that when shelling destroyed her neighborhood five months ago, she fled along with her 20-month-old and her six siblings. Two of her cousins were injured – one, a 3-year-old, lost his leg. Ala’ was terrified to leave the only home she had ever known, and terrified of what would become of her and her family in Jordan.
But today she is a paid volunteer for International Medical Corps, teaching the children how to paint and create beautiful henna designs on their hands.
So often, the way people in crisis are able to heal is by reaching out to help others. Ala’ says it feels good to be able to put her skills to work, giving something back to the children from her own community. She says she has a sense of purpose and can see beyond her own struggles.
As we talk, a group of children gives a singing performance – part of a ceremony marking the end of a 10-week project, after which a new group of 200 from the camp will enter the youth empowerment program. One of International Medical Corps’ mental health case managers, a Jordanian named Mahmud, watches them, beaming. “These children have endured so much suffering, seen such horrific things, parents killed in front of their eyes. But today, seeing them smiling and happy, and not thinking about war – this is a good day for me.”