– 30 May 2018
Reunifying a family in the midst of conflict
Kamal used to live with his wife and three children in Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria. One morning, in 2015, his three children woke up to find that their mother was gone and that they were alone in the middle of bombshells flying over their heads. Despite the precarious situation and their fear, Kamal and his children stayed at their home because there was no other place where he could take them.
Kamal and his three children.
“All I was thinking about was the idea of my children being scared without me being able to do anything,” said Kamal.
Three months later, a shell hit the roof of their home and the family’s house collapsed. The three children were slightly hurt, but Kamal was unharmed. He took the children to the nearest first aid centre and ran to check on his small grocery shop, the only source of income for the family. Kamal found the place in dust. Having lost his house and his work, all Kamal could do was to take his children anywhere away from that dreadful place.
Life on the streets
The three children dropped out of school and passed through a painful emotional rollercoaster because of what they had gone through and because their mother had left.
Together with their father, they left Eastern Ghouta and headed to Damascus city.
The family stayed in a public park and slept and ate in the streets for a few weeks. Although Kamal desperately needed to find work, he was not able to leave the three children alone with no one around to take care of them.
“Our father’s last solution was to put us in an SOS interim care centre. I know that his heart was broken to depart from us, but he knew it was the safest place in the meantime,” said Muna*, Kamal’s now ten-year-old daughter.
Immediate help for the children
Kamal’s plan was to leave his children at the centre until he could find a job and a home. The children were traumatised and in a state of shock and fear when they arrived at the interim care centre.
During their stay at the centre, the SOS team worked to help the children at all levels. The children were enrolled in educational courses to make up for the schooling they had missed, they were immediately enrolled in school again. Due to the hardship they had experienced, the children suffered from a post-traumatic stress disorder that highly affected their social skills. It was necessary for them to attended special psychosocial support sessions to help them to integrate in society.
“The children were deeply hurt, and just wanted to be reunited with their father,” said Wassim Jaroush, psychological specialist at the centre. “The SOS interim care centre offers alternative care for children, but the best environment for any child is still with their biological families.”
Family reunification support
The children were reunited with their father four months after they arrived at the interim care centre. Until 2017, Kamal was covering his family’s daily needs working at a souk, a marketplace for groceries, where he earned only a small income. To support him to reach financial independence and sustainability, the family was enrolled in the reunion strengthening programme after it was launched in 2017.
The reunion strengthening programme provides support and care so that children living in SOS interim care centres can return to their families. Families are supported through allocations for rent, clothing, food and vocational training so they provide and care for their children in the long term.
Kamal talking to the SOS co-worker who supports him and his family.
“The SOS team worked to find a solution for Kamal and his children,” said Nazih Karraz, team leader of the SOS reunion strengthening programme.
“Our plan was to start supporting the family through the reunion strengthening programme as quickly as possible, starting with a financial monthly allowance that includes heating, clothing, and school costs. Another important point was a rent allowance to secure that the children and their father are in a safe area in the city. We have also supported the children psychologically, which is achieved through regular visits by our specialists to supervise the children and monitor their well-being,” he added.
SOS Children’s Villages also supported Kamal’s family to cover their essential needs during winter, covering heating and clothing. One of the SOS co-workers took the three children shopping to try on new uniforms and coats for school. The children’s laughter filled the place when they were choosing what to buy.
“I am sure my friends will love it,” said Muna, smiling. “Now I can go to school with this brand-new jacket. Now we have a good place to live all together with our father.”
Building a more sustainable future
To help Kamal and his family build a more sustainable future, SOS Children’s Villages offered Kamal micro-finance support. This service focuses primarily on empowering families through providing professional toolkits for those who lost their jobs or workshops. In Kamal’s case, the reunion strengthening programme supplied him with the necessary materials to open a food shop as a source of regular income. He also received information on common marketplace product prices to be able to better manage his small business. Kamal is now considering expanding his work and to also sell vegetables in his food shop.
Kamal in his small shop. He receives support to build up his small business so he can provide for his children.
Despite the difficult times the family has lived through, Kamal is now able to meet his family’s needs and build his experience as a small business owner.
“I cannot describe my feelings when I settled down with my children after SOS Children’s Villages helped us. I expected to see my children depressed after all we went through, but I was surprised and happy to find they were better, more mature, and emotionally stable. What is also important is all that SOS Children’s Villages did to help them in school,” said Kamal.
*Name changed for privacy protection.
All photos by: Haj Ebraheem Fares