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Enduring the Unthinkable: Um Abdal and Hamoud's Story

13 Years of Conflict

In Northwest Syria, 13 years of conflict have resulted in over four million people needing humanitarian assistance just to survive. And without an end in sight to the conflict, the situation continues to worsen.

The devasting February 2023 earthquakes led to a sudden growth in humanitarian needs, making life even more challenging for displaced families in the region.

With support from the EU and other donors, GOAL teams are currently providing more than 51,000 families with monthly cash-based assistance to help them buy food and meet their basic needs. Families like Um Abdal and Hamoud’s.

Lives Uprooted

“I know it can be difficult to believe this, but I feel like we have known only pain and suffering in this life. My memory is burdened with the many years we have lived in displacement, uprooted and homeless,” says Um Abdal*, a 40-year-old mother of six living in a camp in Kelly village in Idleb, near Syria’s border with Türkiye (Turkey).

“We often wonder how we managed to stay alive,” adds her husband Hamoud. 

I feel like we have known only pain and suffering in this life.

A woman in Syria sitting with her children and grandchildren inside a shelter for displaced family in Idleb Northwest Syria.
Um Abdal with her children and grandchildren.

Long Years of Displacement

Since the outbreak of conflict 13 years ago, the crisis in Syria has uprooted over 11 million people. Six million people have been displaced within the country, while more than five million have sought safety beyond its borders. Tragically, the conflict has claimed the lives of at least 300,000 people.

Like many others in Northwest Syria, Um Abdal, Hamoud and their family were also forced to leave their homes to escape the conflict.

They are now among the two million internally displaced people living in camps in Idleb and Northern Aleppo.

Um Abdal and Hamoud's story is a reminder of the devastating impact of the conflict on innocent lives.

Before the outbreak of fighting, their lives were filled with comfort and joy. They had a comfortable home, enjoyed picnics during the holidays, and had a strong support network of close neighbours who felt like family. Hamoud worked as a taxi driver in the ancient city of Aleppo. A place that today lies in ruins.

“We had a good life in Aleppo. Work was stable, and our home was filled with laughter. But then, the war shattered everything. We had to leave behind our home, our memories, everything. It's been a journey of pain and loss, one that we had never imagined we would have to endure back then,” shares Um Abdal.

A man standing with his two daughters at a camp for displaced people in Kelly, Idleb, Syria
Hamoud and his daughters Yasmin (11) and Batool (4).

But then, the war shattered everything. We had to leave behind our home, our memories, everything.

Um Abdal and Hamoud's family has faced incredible challenges since first being displaced. Moving around several times in search of safety.

They first sought refuge in a village in Idleb but were forced to move when it was attacked in 2019. They lost their eldest son in the attack, and their three young grandchildren became orphans.

Grieving from the loss, they made their way to Jandires Town in Northern Aleppo.

The family faced yet another setback when the 2023 Türkiye-Syria earthquakes destroyed the warehouse where they were sheltering in Jandires. Once again, they had to pick up and move, ending up in a displacement camp in Kelly in Idleb.

Four children sitting in front of their family's shelter in a camp for displaced people in Kelly, Idleb, Northwest Syria
The family’s children and grandchildren playing in front the brick shelter where they have lived since the earthquakes of February 2023.

Life in a Displacement Camp

After settling in the camp, Hamoud searched for work to provide for his family. However, no income opportunities were available.

“Now, my wife, all these children, and I live in this small block house. Imagine, with ten people, we have five mattresses to share and ten flimsy blankets to keep us warm,” explains Hamoud.

“There aren't enough shoes for the children. They share shoes as needed when going out. We buy one set of clothes for the oldest child each year from a secondhand store. I try my best to make it last because it will be passed down to all the other kids,” Um Abdal adds.

“This area, the outskirts of Kelly Mountain, is dotted with camps now. Tens of thousands families displaced by the conflict and disasters living here. But the entire region suffers from a profound lack of basic services. There are no schools, hospitals, or pharmacies. If you need anything, you must trek at least five kilometres to reach the nearest town,” continues Hamoud. “We’re left to fend for ourselves amid uncertainty,” he adds.

There are no schools, hospitals, or pharmacies. We're left to fend for ourselves.

Hope for Families

Thanks to the support provided by the EU and other generous supporters, GOAL teams are reaching over 51,000 families in Northwest Syria with monthly cash-based assistance they can use to purchase food and meet other essential needs. Families like Um Abdal and Hamoud’s.

“Recently, we have received cash aid from GOAL. This felt like a feast to us. We bought sugar, lentils, bulgur wheat and oil – certainly vegetable oil, not olive oil; we haven't tasted olive oil in over five years," shares Hamoud.

“We also bought some foods we haven't had in a while, like eggs. My wife even made a big meal for the children,” he continues.

Like so many other parents in Northwest Syria, Hamoud has become used to skipping meals in the face of an uncertain future and the fading memories of a better past. But he knows how important it is for children to access nutritious food.

In the morning, as soon as the children open their eyes, they ask for food. Children do not know about money, income, or things like that. They just know of need,” says Hamoud.

Three smiling children in a camp for people displaced by the ongoing Syria conflict in Kelly, Idleb, Northwestern Syria
Hamoud’s granddaughter Leila (10) with her brother Ali (5) and sister Zainab (8).

Ten-year-old Leila, the oldest of Hamoud's three grandchildren, shares her grandfather's worries, having grown up in displacement.

"When I was young, my grandmother took me to school. I learned how to write my name, and I remember that school was something beautiful. Now, I can only memorise the camp's roads, but I'm not upset as long as I can look after my siblings. I don't want anything from the world except being able to make sure they can have food," she says.

*The names of the individuals featured in this story were changed to protect their identity

GOAL in Syria

After more than a decade of conflict, over 6.8 millions Syrians are internally displaced. 70% of Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance and relying on aid to survive day-to-day.

GOAL teams have been working on the ground in Syria since the conflict began in 2012. In the last year GOAL's emergency response programme has reached over 287,000 newly displaced people with food, cooking supplies and financial assistance. As GOAL engineers repair damage to water network infrastructure, more than 1.1 million people are now able to access clean drinking water in their homes. A further 430,000 people are benefitting from GOAL's bakery programme in North-West Syria.

Impact in Numbers

+1 million

Providing clean water to over 1 million people


Delivering bread to over 430,000 people daily

2.1 million

People supported in 2022


GOAL begins operations in Syria

Kareem's Story

Kareem and his family have spent the last decade travelling across war-torn Syria seeking refuge. Neighbouring Turkey offered a safe haven and a chance to rebuild their lives.

Sadly, this respite was short-lived. The family were forced to flee once again when a massive earthquake struck Turkey in February. Lucky to escape with their lives, the family returned to North-West Syria.

Escalating conflict has once again uprooted the family. As airstrikes intensified, Kareem and his family were forced to flee their home in Sarmin.

The decision was not taken lightly but Kareem was left with no choice, “You experience the peak of helplessness when you see your children scared, trembling."

"Although it was dangerous to travel while bombs were falling all around us, I gathered my children one evening when the shelling waned a bit and we escaped without looking back,” Kareem says.

Kareem with his 2 sons and daughter at their new temporary home

Kareem with his 3-year-old son Azim, 4-year-old Ahmad and 5-year-old daughter Yasmine.