The Jesuit Refugee Centre, one of Cordaid’s partner organisations in Syria, organizes educational activities for hundreds of Syrian kids in Damascus, Aleppo and Kafroun. 9 year old Ahmed is one of them. He is forced to work in a shop, doing engine maintenance. “If only my clothes wouldn’t get so dirty.”
He enjoys his reading class and looks forward to his turn to read out loud. Then, he can show everybody that he has really improved since the last session.
9-year old Ahmed lives with his mother and two siblings in a poorly ventilated room at the fringe of Damascus. Three years ago they were displaced form Shabaa. No one knows what happened to their father. It is not sure whether he is dead or alive.
“I’d like to have the same work as my brother. He is a tailor and his clothes don’t get dirty like mine.”
“Sorry, I was delayed at work”, Ahmed says as he joins his companions at the JRS Centre, half an hour late. “I had to go home to change my clothes. That’s why I am late for class.” These days, Ahmed and his older brother bear the responsibility to support their family. Their 35-year old mother had a war-related accident and lost her right hand. She tried to work after the accident, but had to stop. Today, she depends on the earnings of her two sons. She realizes all too well that her boys are tired and overloaded. But she has no choice. She hopes they will benefit by learning form their professions.
Ahmed does engine maintenance in a shop near his home. It is tough work, only done by men. “I don’t like this work”, he says. “It’s a very dirty profession. When I go home my clothes are so dirty. I need to change clothes every day. I’d like to have the same work as my brother. He is a tailor and his clothes don’t get dirty like mine.”
“My boss says I shouldn’t waste my time coming here.”
One day he came to the JRS Centre with greasy hands. One of the volunteers stretched out his hand, but Ahmed felt ashamed to shake hands. Instead he came nearer and planted a kiss on the outstretched hand.
Not only his mother depends on Ahmed, his employer as well. Often he is kept in charge of the store and is denied the possibility of going to the Centre. “Last week my boss allowed me to come just twice to the Centre. He says I shouldn’t waste my time coming here.”
Ahmed’s wish is to learn how to read and write. He has a great desire to complete all school levels. He bears a lot of weight on his young shoulders. What he wants most, is just to be able to study and to have fun with his friends. In the JRS Centre, he finds a safe space where he can do that. A couple of hours every day he can forget the stress of work and the unfairness of how life has treated him. If he is allowed to come.
Cordaid and JRS
For the past 4 years Cordaid and JRS have been working together to provide much needed humanitarian support to the people of Aleppo through field kitchens. Although the majority of the people left Aleppo, some stayed behind. Initially the support was provided to people who stayed behind during the intense fighting of the Aleppo offensive. At that time there was very little food left in the city. As the situation improved and the fighting stopped, many people started to return to Aleppo. More field kitchens were opened and more food distribution points were added resulting into more than 12,000 people receiving warm meals at some point.
Fortunately for its people, the situation in Aleppo continues to improve and the field kitchen is gradually phasing out. Cordaid is therefore shifting its support to JRS health centers. Lack of healthcare is affecting children, women and the elderly the most and makes them extremely vulnerable.
Cordaid support to JRS is funded both by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cordaid’s private donors.
(This article is based on JRS’ September Newsletter.)