And the Syrian winter is certainly harsh. In Damascus, January overnight temperatures frequently dip below freezing, and snow and sleet are not uncommon. Yet many displaced families have no option but to seek shelter in abandoned building with no electricity or heating.
Despite being heavily pregnant at the time, Malak walked to Damascus with her husband Mahran and their infant son when the violence became too much. They hoped to stay with Mahran’s sister in Kiswah on the outskirts of the capital. When they arrived, however, Mahran’s sister had no room for them in her small house, and they were forced to look elsewhere.
Forced to brave the winter in squalor
Eventually, they came across an abandoned building where several displaced families from their hometown of Darayya were staying. They managed to secure a small room in the basement, and a few weeks later, baby Maya was born.
“It was a very difficult birth,” Malak recalls. “I was very sad because I felt alone, far away from my mother and our home. I will never forget that day.”
When winter came, two-year-old Malek was very ill. The moisture underground, the extreme cold, and the darkness were more than his young body could tolerate. With no medicine and hardly any food, what started as acute bronchitis has now developed into severe asthma, which he is still living with one year on.
Surviving with nothing
Malak and Mahran, with their two young children, had none of the essential things that every family needs in winter. No heating, no winter clothing, nothing to sleep on - terrified by the violence that surrounded them, they left Darayya with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Two years ago, they had everything they needed. They were a normal family, with normal worries and a normal life. Now, they share a basement room with rats and mice, without even the medication they need to care for their sick son. Like so many Syrian families, the war has turned their lives upside down.
As a new winter approaches, there is one refrain on Malak’s lips: “I just want to go back home with my family”.
SOS Children equips families for winter
After the terrible circumstances many people endured last year, we had to do something about this. So this winter, we’re providing 20,000 families with essential kit to help them survive another harsh Syrian winter. Each kit will include three blankets - enough for the whole family - as well as a winter coat for everyone, and scarves, hats and gloves for the children.
We’ll be helping tens of thousands of people in Damascus and the surrounding area, as well as families in Daraa and the stricken city of Aleppo. The programme will start in November and go right through into January, so that everyone is well-equipped for the harshest winter months. By taking these simple measures, we will help keep families like Malak’s healthy during the most difficult time of the year.
To keep on helping families in Syria, we need your help. Please give to our Syria emergency appeal...