Hamza* has spent the last six years living apart from his wife and children while supporting Islamic Relief’s lifesaving work in Syria. As the country marks a decade of crisis, Hamza explains what motivates him and why humanitarian aid is needed more desperately than ever.
It’s been 10 years since Syria’s brutal crisis began, and millions of people are still living with the pain of the crisis and suffering. Many are orphans, widows, and older people who are now even more vulnerable than before.
These people have nothing to do with the crisis, but they have suffered a great deal. Their villages have been attacked, forcing them to flee again and again in a desperate hunt for safety. They’ve lost homes, loved ones, livelihoods, education, security – all things they once took for granted.
In many ways, I know how they feel. I too have been repeatedly forced to leave my home due to constant bombardment.
Here in northern Syria, uprooted families live in terrible poverty, in flimsy tents and shelters that provide little protection from the scorching heat and freezing winters. We aid workers consider these people our family and it is our duty to stand by them and help them.
Personal sacrifices to continue life-saving work
To protect my wife and children from the bombardments, I moved them to a neighbouring country. Even though it is difficult being away from my family, I am dedicated to my work here in Syria, so I have decided to stay here to support those who are struggling.
I only spend a few days with my family once in a while and have to travel to a neighbouring country to see them. It makes me so happy to speak to my wife and children via a video call. We have to live separately so that I can continue to work here, but I am willing to do this because it means I can help people in dire need here in northern Syria.
Our communication lines are cut off frequently due to bombardments, which means I sometimes cannot contact my wife and children; this causes us all great distress because if they do not hear from me, they fear that I’ve been caught up in an airstrike, and imagine the worst.
The challenges of aid work in Syria
Working here is extremely dangerous. Living in a country that has been ravaged by crisis means planning every movement carefully and making arrangements to ensure we can travel safely between places. We cross very dangerous areas to reach the people we support, so from the moment the sun rises in the morning, the challenges of daily life begin.
Aside from these dangers, I also face many difficulties with things that are considered ordinary in other countries. As so many people are displaced here, finding a house to rent is very difficult – after a month of searching, I still haven’t found one. If I need fuel for my car, I know that I could face hours of searching for fuel and still not find it. If I need to charge even a laptop, I have to start thinking about how to find a generator and fuel to run it, which can take all night. Water is not always available for washing or showering so I rely on mobile water tanks, which means that water is often difficult to find.
This is the reality. Simple things are difficult to achieve here in northern Syria.
Coronavirus has worsened a difficult situation
Coronavirus has made life even harder. I do what I can to protect myself so that I can continue serving people, but it is scary to be around people.
Even though I have been sticking to the health and safety rules and have been practicing social distancing, I once caught the virus myself. It was a very difficult experience. I felt extremely weak and had a high temperature and a dry throat. I could no longer work and had to stay in my room, far away from my loved ones. My neighbours kindly looked after me with hot drinks and medicine.
I thank God that I recovered and could return to work. This pandemic will get worse and the number of cases here will increase because it is impossible for people sharing a tent to social distance. I pray to Allah to keep the pandemic away from here, so that people who have suffered crisis, bombing, displacement, pain, hunger, and disease will not have to face any more hardship.
Hopes for a better future in Syria
On the tenth anniversary of the Syria crisis, I wish for every displaced person to return home, for every mother who has been separated from her children to be reunited with them, and for peace to prevail in this country.
As for me, I wish to live with my wife and children, once again. I wish to stay close to them, to take care of them, and live a happy life.
Last year alone, Islamic Relief aid workers like Hamza assisted 2.5 million people suffering in Syria’s crisis. With your support, we can continue to be their lifeline. Donate to Islamic Relief now.
*Name changed to protect his identity