This was posted by Annie Tariq about her deployment to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan in January 2014. Images © Islamic Help.
"Shivering in the cold, "Welcome to my home," he said pointing towards his make-shift tent. Contemplate having a home, a loving family, the comfort of friends and a successful career snatched away and replaced with the sound of gunshots, fear, torture before your very eyes and the stench of corpses. In fear of your life and loved ones, your only escape of hope is to flee to a neighbouring country leaving behind your entire life. It is unimaginable but unfortunately these are the harsh realities of the Syrian crisis.
Since graduating in Biological Science from the University of Birmingham, I have been actively volunteering with Islamic Help for approximately two years. After volunteering for numerous campaigns I was given the opportunity to work for the charity last year fundraising for the huge humanitarian crisis in Syria, and this became the catalyst for the passion I hold for the cause today. Hence when presented with the prospect of visiting the Syrian refugee camps on a 4-day aid deployment on behalf of the charity I instantaneously decided to take the life-changing opportunity.
Upon reaching Jordan with two fellow volunteers (Zakir Salim and Zayna Shaikh), our first task was to pack the aid boxes, each of which cater for an entire family, consisting of multiple everyday necessities including milk powder, medicine, socks, sanitation products and blankets to name a few. These everyday items which we take for granted are in fact fundamentals for the refugees in the camps and have now become a luxury. Their daily struggles have only been intensified with harsh winter weather conditions, and it is the young children and elderly in particular who are at risk of battling conditions such as pneumonia, which can prove deadly if left untreated. During my time in the warehouse I met an aid worker who had carried out numerous deployments. As this was my first encounter, he advised that I mentally prepare myself but I later found that no amount of forethought could have equipped me for such an experience.
After distributing the aid at a refugee centre in Madaba, we travelled to a smaller camp in the evening, Sahil al Ghab. As we walked towards the camp I saw a young child. It was very cold and despite wearing boots, thick clothing and a scarf I was shivering and yet this infant was wearing torn clothing and slippers. It was heart-wrenching. As we looked on at the camp in bewilderment, we were approached by a refugee who invited us into his "home"; a tent made of plastic sheets. I stood silenced in shock as he told of his ordeal. He was a successful lawyer but was forced to leave Syria with his family, including four young children, in fear of their lives. The tents were surrounded with waste and the refugees had little access to clean water, no form of income and as a result relied heavily on relief aid. My thoughts immediately empathised with the vulnerable young children and their exposure to such an unsafe environment as they played unknowingly, making the most of the little they had.
I also visited the second largest refugee camp in the world, al Zaatari, on the Syrian-Jordanian border. Looking from a distance I was in complete awe of the sheer size of the camp. A blanket of white in the distance formed as a result of tent upon tent crammed in to the camp, surrounded by desert terrain, thereby exposing refugees to sandstorms and increasing susceptibility to respiratory diseases.
Throughout my trip I kept reflecting on the psychological impact this must have on the Syrian refugees, in particular the children, who may have seen family members get injured or even killed. We often concentrate on providing physical items in the form of aid and overlook the impact of war on an individual"s mental state. After visiting numerous camps I was pleased to see many smiling children with faces full of hope but it was evident these children were yearning for one thing only - affection. I cannot forget their innocent enthusiastic faces when we gave them simple things such as sweets, almost grateful that they, along with their struggle, had not been forgotten. One can only wonder how the frightening truth of war affects the spirit of childhood and therefore it was uplifting to see a football pitch and playground which had been donated in al Zaatari camp. Despite all the difficulties they had faced and shall continue to see, the Syrian people were strong and determined. Although they had very little in terms of possessions they were hospitable and simply thankful to be alive."
This is one of the pieces posted by Zayna Shaikh on her blog during her deployment to Jordan to help distribute aid to Syrian refugees. This was posted on January 17, 2014.
This, and more articles by Zayna about her work with Islamic Help, can be found at http://zaynashaikh.wordpress.com/author/zaynashaikh.
"As we got ready and left the hotel in the morning, we were unsure as to where the day would take us but Alhamdulillah it turned into one of, if not THE most eye-opening day. We were blessed enough to visit several camps and truly witness the effects of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Blessed Land.
The first camp we saw from outside was Zataari Camp. Upon reaching Zataari we were shocked at the extent of how big the camp actually was. It looked like a mini city standing alone in the Jordanian Desert. To think that the camp was full of people who had left their entire lives behind due to their life being in risk was truly heartbreaking. It is impossible to even fathom the thought of leaving everything you have worked so hard for as the streets in which you freely roam and socialise are now the roads on which your life is in danger. Yet this is what happened to the people of Syria, God has truly blessed us with the security of a safe home and a proper roof over my head. I cannot comprehend going through what they have.
After seeing Zataari Camp, we continued the day by visiting many other Syrian camps which had began emerging in the landscape. These camps were relatively new yet still housed over 100 people. A majority of the tents used by the refugees have been given by the UNHCR which is good to see that at least the UN is actively doing something for these refugees. The next camp was called the King Abdullah Camp and some Syrians had rented homes which were available in this area in order to lessen the strain on their children and families. The conditions of all the camps were the same with basic necessities and children wondering. As mentioned in my previous blog, the children roam innocently and unknowingly yet today I felt like their eyes were telling me a thousand stories of the pain they had gone through in Syria.
The camp we visited next in Arabet truly shocked me as it was in really bad condition. I was even more shocked when I discovered that these were the camps in which the Palestinians were staying. Many had been there since 1948 and generation after generation had been born into the same state and not known a life of anything different. This coupled with the Syrian camps made me finally understand the hardships of the life of a refugee and question as to what would happen next for these people...
The conditions for refugees are awful and being humans it is our duty to do as much as we can for our brothers and sisters struggling around the world. We passed by many more camps which housed many more refugees whom have access to nothing so it is up to us to provide for them as best as we can. Be that raising funds, delivering aid or making a sincere dua from the heart, all will have a great impact on alleviating some of the struggles on these people."
Cooking in the same room as bathing
Washing and cooking in the same room
We visited displaced Syrian refugees today, those that live outside the camps, including two families - 9 people - who live in one house.
One of the families is made up of both parents and three children, including Hala (pictured), while the other has both parents and two children. They arrived a month ago after being in the camps. They left Syria because the killings, the shelling and shooting was unbearable especially for the kids so they left.
Turkish people have given them this house to live rent free, but both of the men of the houses don't have jobs. Sometimes they get work and other times they don't. They have little food and the house that the room they cook in is also the room they bathe in. Conditions are, to say the least, squalid.
My name's Rukhsana and I volunteer at Islamic Help and Birmingham Children's Hospital.
After graduating from university last year I came across Islamic Help. I loved their work and unique projects and have always wanted to get more actively involved in charity work. As soon as I found out about the opportunity to help the Syrian refugees directly, I had no doubts and signed up straight away. I hope that when I return home and share my experiences with others, it will motivate them to help and do more for the refugees.
What really touched me today, was when I met some sisters living in a tent set up in a remote area. They embraced me as though we had met before and although they have lost their homes and livelihood, they were so hospitable. They had an old mat laid out in front of the tent and asked me and other volunteers to sit down even though they had nothing. I saw their brother unable to walk and they told us he was in their home in Syria when it was bombed, and due to nerve damage in his legs had lost the ability to walk. Simple physiotherapy would have helped him get his legs back to normal. Their strength and kindness inspired me, and I felt a deep connection with them.
Food ready to give to refugees
Supplies ready to distribute
Meeting some of the refugees
The Islamic Help team spent all day delivering hygiene kits to Syrian refugees and was very touched by the hospitality of the families welcoming everyone with big smiles and offering food and tea to everyone.
Some of the families are better off than others, and when we say better off it means they have an income which is the equivalent of only £7.50 a day for a family of 21. They are expected to pay for all living expenses from that - rent, food, hygiene, medical needs and clothes.
One of the families that was most touching to the team was that of a doctor who was killed in hospital when helping an injured person six months ago. His three sisters, wife, mother and all their kids - 15 people altogether - opened their arms to us and made food for everyone. The team spent a full night of laughter with them. The family was full of life, full of hope and full of faith. They inspired us by sharing their painful stories yet still they had smiles on their faces. They had hope and believed that one day they will host us in their home in Syria.