Story by Alexandra Murdoch, photos by Alexandra Murdoch & Salah Malkawi
Syria is the biggest and the most complex humanitarian crisis of our time. Since the start of the year, the World Food Programme has been trying to give a voice to the ordinary people caught up in the turmoil of the ongoing conflict. Here is Ahmed’s story.
My name is Ahmed. In 2012, I was forced to leave my home in Syria and I now live here at the Zaatari refugee camp with my wife Eehasan, my son Ziad and my daughter Zeina. We had a happy life in Syria – Eehasan worked as a supply teacher, Zeina was doing well at school, Ziad was in the local football team. Business was going well for me – I owned a furniture showroom in town.
“Gradually things started to turn”
It didn’t start as a war. I am not involved in politics but we knew of demonstrations in other areas of the country. Then gradually things started to turn. Each day Ziad would return home from school with awful stories of things that had happened to his friends on the way home, so we had to stop him from going to school.
One night 4,000 people were killed in our town of Homs. I started to receive threats and warnings, so I closed up the shop, took my family and left. When I returned to check the situation two weeks later, soldiers had taken over my shop and our house had been burnt out.
I thank God that we got out in time but the feeling I get when I think about my business and home all gone is indescribable. All the stock, all the money I had – gone. I can’t think about it, I just have to look forward.
“It was a very difficult time for us.”
When we first arrived here, life was very difficult. Zeina became very sick. We had gone from living a normal life to living in a tent in the desert.
The dust and the conditions made her physically ill but she was also in shock – she would have frequent panic attacks and stopped eating. We thought she would die. My own deteriorating health and the worry gave me a heart attack. It was a very difficult time for us.
After a while, instead of focusing on all the things we found difficult, we started to look on the bright side. We learned to cope. WFP provided us with hot meals each day which helped so much – it was just one less thing to have to think about.
We wanted to start living again, so I managed to get a full-time job with one of the agencies here, and my wife has started working in the schools as a teacher.
“I tell my daughter that her weapon is her study.”
I tell my daughter that her weapon is her study. Zeina is smart and she works hard at school. That must be her focus now. Her dream is to become a paediatrician.
She always wanted to help people but now, after everything that has happened to us, her dream has only become stronger and we are so proud of her.
The WFP school meals are such a help – they encourage many of the children to go to school. We don’t have any money to give Zeina for food but we know she will be fed there and we know many parents here that feel the same way.
When we arrived at Zaatari, there was one school – now we have 13 schools! I know Eehasan feels so proud that she was able to help WFP promote school meals and education here in the camp.
“We now cook the meals we like.”
As for us, we feel like life is getting better and WFP has helped with that. We use our WFP e-card to buy whatever we want from the store.
We now cook the meals we like and buy whatever ingredients we need. When we enter the supermarket now, it is with dignity.
“All I really want is peace”
When we arrived here, we tried to forget what we had seen and move on. Thank God that we arrived here alive and that we are together. All I really want is peace in Syria and for us to be able to go home. However, most of all I just want my children to have a happy future.
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