I met Leena in the Zaatari refugee camp, near Jordan's northwest border with Syria. In a dusty tent glowing with the light of the harsh desert sun, her 18-month-old son, Raed, reached for her, though she couldn't pick him up over her pregnant belly — she's due with her second child in just six weeks.
Leena (who asked me not to use her last name for fear of reprisals if she returns to Syria) had fled her home in Syria three weeks earlier with her husband and son after their home was destroyed in an aerial attack. Thankfully, no one was home when the house was bombed.
They had to escape in the night to avoid detection. The trip to the Jordanian border is very dangerous and many refugees have been shot at while taking flight from their homes. She told me they only brought the clothes they were wearing. They couldn’t carry anything else with them.
Their new home is a small tent in crowded Zaatari refugee camp that sprung up six weeks ago in the middle of the desert.
Refugees in the camp are not allowed to go out to work, so they must rely on humanitarian aid organizations for virtually everything: food, water, blankets, medical care and other basic necessities. Leena told me they have been wearing the same clothes since they arrived because they don’t have any others.
Mercy Corps is working in the camp to help mothers like Leena and their children stay healthy and find some comfort after their terrifying experiences. Our teams are working to build a new water distribution system in the camp to ensure families have enough to drink, wash and stay clean.
We've also built playgrounds where kids like Raed can find a break from their grim surroundings and channel their energy into laughter and play. The camp is not an easy place for anyone, but the youngest refugees are especially struggling to understand all that has happened. They have lost everything and don't know when they may return home.
While Leena tries to soothe Raed's cries, she's also worried about her unborn child. How will they manage to get all the things they will need for a newborn? Will this child be safe? Will they be able to return to their lives in Syria?
Until those questions can be answered, Mercy Corps teams are hard at work every day to expand our efforts to help these families in crisis.
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