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Surviving a Syrian winter


December 1, 2016 • 3 min read

GOAL has brought us some hope and warmth, reminding us of the days before the conflict. We hope those days return and our olive trees blossom again.

"Sixty-year-old Syrian, Dima, was forced to flee with her son, and her son's family, from clashes in her village in Northern Syria. This is their story – and how GOAL helped them survive through the winter months."

Dima Abd Alkader**, 60, was forced to flee with her son and his family from clashes in her village. After being displaced repeatedly, like many of the 6.5 million internally displaced people in Syria, they found themselves living in a semi-built house. Dima and her family have benefitted from GOAL’s housing repairs project, funded by OFDA, which has supported them to install windows and doors in their house, helping them through the cold winter months of 2015-16.

Dima spoke to GOAL’s Field Communications Officer:

“My husband used to be a shepherd, he would look after sheep. We also had a small olive tree plantation. [He died before the conflict from heart disease.] We have three children. Mohammed, our son, is 30; he is married and used to work at the city hall. Our two daughters are 20 and 22 years old. These days, they work picking olives to make a living. Three years ago, we were displaced from our village when the military started shelling our village. They arrested young men and some were killed. I remember seeing soldiers at a checkpoint arrest a man, shoot him, and throw him behind the wall of a house nearby.

“Such incidents forced us to escape to a neighboring village. I fled with my son Mostafa and our family; we stayed in in this village for six months. Afterwards, we moved to live in a school in an area much further away. We stayed [in that school] for a year. It would get really cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. There were no bathrooms or kitchens. The classroom (that we lived in) was everything: a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a living room. All of our house became that one room.

“After the schools started to function again in that city, we moved to live in this house. It wasn’t fully constructed. It was really just an unfinished shell. Cold wind would sweep in through every hole and opening in this house. We covered the window openings with nylon sheets and covered entryways with blankets. We would wrap ourselves completely in blankets to get warm, but to no avail. We would feel the cold air getting in from the floor and through the walls, but we patiently tolerated the cold for my little grandchildren. They are six children, four boys: Mohammad, Ahmad, Saleh and Mosa, and two girls: Maram and Deeba. They are my life. I am most happy with them, especially when they talk about what they want to be when they grow up. Mohammad wants to be a doctor, Ahmad wants to be a teacher, and Maram wants to be a writer.

“We thought about going back to our village when the army withdrew [and ground clashes ended]. But, my house was already destroyed, our olive trees had been burned down, and rocket attacks and aerial bombing continued. [I heard about] one person that returned to the village with his sheep. But he was [killed] in shelling along with his sheep.

“They said he was blown up.

“Being away from my village and [not being able to visit] my husband’s grave are some of the hardest parts of being displaced. Sometimes, there are moments when it is possible to let go of these haunting sorrows. GOAL’s assistance has protected us from the cold within these walls. But the roof of this house still has no warmth or familiarity, and it always reminds me that I am displaced and homeless.

“GOAL has still brought us some hope and warmth, reminding us of the days before the conflict. We hope those days return and our olive trees blossom again.”

During the winter of 2015-16, with funding from USAID OFDA GOAL and its partners assisted in the repair of houses for almost 800 households, benefitting over 4,800 people. GOAL also supported repairs at 75 Collective Centers, which include abandoned schools and government buildings, used as shelter by over 400 internally displaced families.

**The names of beneficiaries in this story have been changed.