Safe shelter from the cold

Jordan, Syria

December 24, 2014

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“What do I hope for the future? That my children will live in a safe place. And for my children to know the love and tenderness of family,” shared Amneh, a Syrian mother of two.

We sat on their traditional floor mattresses while her daughter, Duha, with her endearing mischievous smile, vied for attention.

Discussing her family’s situation as refugees in Jordan brought tears to Amneh’s eyes. A year and a half ago, she and her husband Khaled, their son Suleiman, 4, and daughter Duha, 3, fled the incomprehensible violence in their home of Homs, Syria.

While at their neighbor’s house, tank fire leveled Amneh and Khaled’s home. With their home destroyed and their very young children traumatized by the brutal conflict all around them, they saw only one option: to seek refuge in a neighboring country.

Khaled’s eyes welled-up as he recalled what it felt like to leave Syria: “God, it was really hard. Really hard. Our hearts ached. What could we do? We still feel pain in our hearts.”

Before Mercy Corps helped rehabilitate their living space, the young family felt unsafe in the run-down shelter they found in Jordan.

This sweet young family is now among the more than 600,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan — 80 percent of whom, like Amneh and Khaled, live in towns scattered throughout the country, rather than in crowded refugee camps.

Most families decide to leave the camps to find some semblance of normalcy, autonomy and comfort even in such desperate circumstances. But without much income — it is forbidden for Syrian refugees to work in Jordan — many people can only afford run-down spaces that would normally be considered unlivable.

Amneh and Khaled were no different. During Jordan's frigid winter last year, they lived behind broken, drafty doors and without a heater. To keep the cold at bay, they covered the holes in the doors with blankets and Khaled reimagined a half-barrel as a fireplace, which helped keep them warm and doubled as a stove top.

One of Khaled's biggest wishes was a safe space for his son and three-year-old daughter Duha to play.

In early November of this year, before the cold months hit Jordan, our team completed a rehabilitation of their home to make sure the family is warmer and more secure this winter. We installed solid, secure doors in each doorway, which have drastically improved the quality of their lives.

“It would have been really hard to keep living here," Khaled explained. "The ceiling used to crumble on us while we were sleeping, it was horrible. The doors, they weren’t really doors, they didn’t lock or anything. The new doors have helped us a lot. We feel much safer.”

"The painting helps so much," Amneh added. "Our daughter would pick off the peeling wall and eat it. It’s a big difference!”

The brand-new doors keep the living space warm and give the family the privacy and security they deserve.

Along with the painting and door installation, we brought in carpeting, a hot water heater, a water tank, electrical wiring, lighting, a stove, and provided kitchen tools, clothing, hygiene supplies, a shower head, and window mosquito netting.

The assistance has eased so many of Amneh and Khaled's worries — and our goal is that it provides the little bit of comfort and stability that seems so out of reach for families in unfamiliar surroundings.

One of the many tragic consequences of this war is separation — the loss of loved ones and the scattering of families. In a culture that's defined by close-knit, extended families, the disconnect is almost too much to bear. “We miss our land, our country, all of our family. There is so much that we miss, more than we can mention,” Khaled lamented. “God willing, we will return to our country, and the crisis will end throughout the entire Arab world, those are my hopes.”

While we cannot restore life to what it was before this crisis, we can make sure that refugees like Amneh and Khaled have a stable home until they can return to their country. Now in its third year, our shelter rehabilitation program asks the owners of all homes to sign contracts stating they will not raise the rent or evict the families Mercy Corps assists.

Now, this young family is sheltered from winter's harsh weather and has a safe space to call their own.

For Syrian refugees who don’t know when they’ll make it home, a decent living space can help them get through these tough times safely and care for their families. "The house was completely horrible before Mercy Corps helped us. So thank you very much," Khaled smiled.

We're happy to know this family will be warm through the cold months ahead, and that Amneh, Khaled, Suleiman and Duha feel the much-needed sense of security, comfort and stability that everyone deserves.

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