Recently we were really happy to make a link with http://www.samarasaidappeal.org/, an amazing charity that sends aid to Syria. The wonderful Robin Lovell collects aid from us and delivers it to them. Here is a letter to Robin from Samara which explains a little about the heart breaking places the aid goes to.....
Today I am writing from Syria, where I have been visiting widows in Latakia. One of them used to live in Shtabraq, Idlib. One night while she and her family were sleeping, Al Nusra fighters came, killing the residents of this village in their homes and even in their beds. These jihadists had been hiding in caves, in fields and underground until the night they struck and took control of this village. The people I met said that around 1,000 jihadists arrived with guns and bombs.
Many villagers ran away just in time but hundreds were killed and they described the bombs coming down like rain. Many of the victims’ throats were cut when this attack took place in April 2015. They killed the father of these children. He was not a soldier or a fighter, just a civilian like the rest of his family. But these jihadists killed him regardless, taking the rest of the family as prisoners. She tried to run with her children, and had to run up a ramp while trying to escape, but the terror she felt made her virtually incapable and she fell three times while trying to get up this ramp.
One of her neighbours saw her 13 year old daughter being shot as they ran. She briefly held her in her arms as she was dying, then had to abandon her precious daughter to try to save her son in time. But her son was taken by them regardless. Some of the women were taken by the jihadists and were forced to “marry” some of the fighters. They were thought to be been taken to other countries.
This widow and her four children were all put in prison. The youngest was just five years old at the time, and the oldest has a medical condition. They kept these little and unwell children in prison. She described how she was given 65 lashes with a leather whip. What could a simple mother of four have ever done to deserve this punishment? After nine months they were set free as part of a deal negotiated to release Al Nusra members that the Syrian government had in prison, in return for releasing these women and children that Al Nusra had been keeping in prison. The widow commented that most of the Al Nusra fighters they encountered, as much as 90%, were not Syrian, but were from other countries.
This woman broke down in tears repeatedly as she told us of the fear and suffering they had lived, and that she wakes screaming because of the nightmares she has. She cannot forget. Her oldest daughter has disabilities but her other children go to school.
So many displaced people have flocked to Latakia because of its relative safety compared with other parts of the country. As a result the schools are overcrowded and the children have to attend in two shifts. Some children do the morning shift of learning while others do the afternoon session.
While her daughters go to school in the afternoon, this widow uses the opportunity to take on poorly paid farming work to try to cover the rent of the one room they all live in. It barely seems worthy of the high rent she has to pay for it, with paint peeling off the damp patches creeping up each of the walls. She simply cannot earn enough to support her four children.
What this woman and her children have been through is too much. Simply. No child should ever have to experience being imprisoned to be used as a bargaining chip for the release of prisoners linked with a terrorist organisation.
Widows like this in Syria desperately need our support, and they are not isolated or unusual cases. Too many people have had similar and equally heart experiences. We gave each of this widow’s children a new pair of shoes or winter boots to help see them through winter. We visited a number of widows and their children yesterday, giving new shoes to each of them. The daytimes are temperate but the nights are now feeling cold here, and the temperatures will continue to plummet over the coming weeks.
I cannot bring myself to share the photos or videos we took today while I was with this widow. They have had enough of their dignity stolen from them already, so instead I will simply show you one of the streets where these women and children are attempting to pick up the pieces of their broken lives. Our little gestures mean a lot to them, and these women thanked me for being willing to come and be with them, showing love and support for them and their children.
We need the support of people like you to help us collect essential aid to help women and children like this. Our next appeal will be in January, with a delivery deadline to our storage hubs of 1st February.....