Syria: Stories of hope and courage from the rubble of war

A hazy dust cloud whirled in the air as the OCHA convoy set off from Damascus for Homs.

This was the first visit for Joyce Msuya, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, since starting her role earlier this year. She met with people affected by the Syria crisis, listened to their struggles and heard their hopes.

The city of Homs, the capital of Homs Governorate, has been hard hit by the crisis, now in its twelfth year. The area has sustained a shocking amount of destruction; nearly every building bears the scars of war, and entire neighbourhoods – once bustling with activity – are now abandoned and eerily quiet.

The UN and its humanitarian partners have been supporting people in Homs since the crisis began. The needs are vast – of the approximately 1.5 million people living in the Governorate, more than one fifth need humanitarian assistance.

“I’m grateful for the support,” said Sahar, a young woman whose expressive eyes betrayed her stoic demeanor. She is one of many women who regularly visit the Kafr Laha Community Centre, funded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Operated by the Syrian Society for Social Development and UNHCR, the centre opened in April 2021 and serves the entire Taldu sub-district, located in rural Homs. Its wide range of services include legal support to survivors of gender-based violence and education. Before the crisis, the area’s population was about 122,000 people. It’s now a mere 69,875 people.

Sahar added: “I was a day labourer before, barely making ends meet. My day’s wages were hardly enough to buy fever-reducing medicine for my child. Now I can support my family by sewing clothes for school children – a skill I learned at the centre.”

Ms. Msuya also visited a secondary school in the Deir Ba’albeh neighbourhood, recently rehabilitated with funding from the Syria Humanitarian Fund (SHF), a mechanism that provides unearmarked, flexible funding.

More than one in three schools have been damaged or destroyed or are being used for other purposes.

In certain locations, including Homs, classroom sizes can reach 150 students per teacher.

During her visit to other neighbourhoods, Ms. Msuya met two families who are receiving SHF-funded livelihoods assistance. Osama, a father supporting his family, received five sheep. He now owns six, as one of the ewes gave birth after settling in her new home. “I’m happy because I can feed my family and sell the milk and cheese at the market,” he said, tenderly holding his young son, who smiled shyly at the UN visitors.

The Food and Livelihood Assistance for Syrian Households project supports 658 households (approximately 3,290 people, some 494 of whom are men, 987 women, 905 boys and 904 girls). It provides food vouchers in several areas, including rural Homs. Seventy-five of the households also receive agriculture and livestock-based assistance. Approximately 494 of those supported by the project have a disability.

In Taldu district, a project supported by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization supplies four villages with water for irrigation. Nearly 90 per cent of the local irrigation network was severely damaged in the crisis, which significantly affected farmers’ livelihoods. The project now benefits 20,000 people who no longer have to rely on expensive alternatives, such as water trucking.

At the end of her visit, Ms. Msuya said: “I am deeply impressed by the resilience and strength of the people I met in Homs. The people of Syria have suffered immensely and deserve to live a happy, healthy and satisfying life. We cannot close our eyes to their distress. I’m deeply grateful to our donors for their support, but much more funding is desperately needed. We must act now to save lives.” Needs in Syria are rising: 14.6 million people need humanitarian assistance, and an estimated 12 million people are food insecure. Last year, the UN delivered humanitarian assistance to 7.3 million people each month, which is only half of the total number of people in need. Syria’s humanitarian community has requested US$4.4 billion for 2022-2023. To date, the appeal is only nine per cent funded.

Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs