10 April 2014

Found on a Damascus Street: Young Girls Now Call SOS Village Home

Alaa and Aya, just three and four years old, were alone and homeless, until a good samaritan noticed and brought them to an SOS village

Photo: © Rasha Muhrez

“I was coming out of the mosque after prayers and I suddenly found the two girls sitting on the pavement holding each other’s hands tightly,” recalls Hassan, a Syrian man in his late forties and a father to three children. “They seemed to be in a bad situation. They had lost their parents and God only knows how long they had been wandering the streets alone.”

Hassan brought the little girls to SOS Children’s Villages in Damascus.
 
Alaa and Aya knew their names but didn’t have any proof of identity with them. They appear to be about three and four years old.
 
SOS Children’s Villages Syria has not been able to ascertain where they come from or what has happened to their parents, but Alaa, the elder sister, says their father used to have a small traditional copper workshop in the in Al Tal suburb of Rural Damascus.
 
“I didn’t know what to do and I just couldn’t leave them alone,” says Hassan. “I took them home with me. My wife was very sad to see them in that state. She took care of them and my children were very happy to have little kids at home again. My elder daughter is 17; she doesn’t work and wasn’t getting up before noon. But when the two girls came into our lives, she got up every day at 7 am to play with them and prepare breakfast. They brought joy to our lives. Our house was full of love and laughter again.”

Hassan, a father of three, found Aya (3) and Alla (4) on the streets of Damascas. They had no identification and no idea where their parents were; now the girls are living at the SOS Children´s Village in Damascus. Photo credit: © Rasha Muhrez

Hassan has a simple job with a modest salary, which is hardly enough to feed his family, especially under the current difficult living conditions fuelled by the conflict in Syria. But he wanted to keep the girls and take care of them as if they were his own. He followed the official procedures and went to the nearby police station to inform them about the girls. Then he went to court to seek the right to look after the girls until there was news about their parents. Together with his wife, they made a clear decision that the girls should be, if at all possible, reunited with their parents – if and when they were located.

Unfortunately, however, the law in Syria doesn’t allow such guardianship; unaccompanied children have to be handed over to a registered organisation through a court decision. This makes any type of foster care nearly impossible, despite the dire need for alternative care.
 
Hassan was very disappointed after trying all he could with the court. Finally, the judge decided that they could be taken in by the SOS Children’s Village in Damascus – and although Hassan was sad that they could not stay with him and his family, he was relieved, because he knew they would have a loving home.
 
Right after the court decision, he said: “My wife will be so disappointed. They have been waiting for good news from me.”
 
When Alaa realised that Hassan was leaving, she ran after him screaming loudly: “Papa, don’t leave me alone.”
 
They had spent only nine days with Hassan´s family, yet they were already calling Hassan and his wife ‘mum’ and ‘dad’. They had a caring family and a loving home. Hassan came back and gave the girls a big hug. With eyes full of tears he whispered to them: “You will go to a nice place. Don’t worry, I will come to visit you every day. You will have a big garden to play in and, Alaa, you will get a new school bag.”
 
Hassan accompanied them with the driver to the SOS village to say goodbye there.


At the SOS Children´s Village, Aya and her sister Alla have shelter, love and the chance to be kids again. Photo credit: © Rasha Muhrez

Alaa and Aya are now in the SOS family house in the Qudsaya village in Damascus, sharing their new home with other brothers and sisters. Together with the ministry of social affairs, the SOS team is working to find their parents, or any information about them and their extended family, so that they can hopefully be reunited.

There are no official statistics on unaccompanied children inside Syria but recent UNICEF reports suggest that there are more than 8,000 unaccompanied refugee children in Jordan and Lebanon.