ORPHANS & WIDOWS
In June 2016 a woman was brought to one of our hospitals in Syria. She had been seriously injured in a land mine explosion while farming. Her husband was killed at the scene. They had five children of their own and were also supporting her sister-in-law with her two young children who they took in when she was widowed.
The mother-of-five was in need of blood transfusions, multiple operations and there was a possibility that she would loose her leg.
A few days later she died.
I was distraught as I tried to comprehend what this loss meant for the remaining family. One widow would be left caring for seven children, five of whom were orphans. She was alone.
This widow and mother had no other support, no ability to work and no infrastructure in their society to offer her or these children a safety net. They had no hope.
I could not get these children or this widow out of my mind. As I thought about this family, I felt a sense of the desperation and hopelessness they must be feeling. One thing that was clear was that they needed support.
In Syria where 85% of the population are living in poverty, orphans and widows like these are forced to make unimaginable choices just to by bread.
In July 2016 a woman brought her 13 year old daughter to one of our medical teams in Syria. The girl had multiple bruises and injuries to her thighs and genitals as well as an infection. She had scars from previous attacks and was in a very poor state. When our doctor examined her she refused to speak. She just wanted pain relief. When he pushed her to tell him what had happened, the girl broke down in tears and told him her story.
Her father had been a teacher and they had lived a normal life before the war, but he was killed in the conflict. Over time her mother became more and more desperate trying to make ends meet. She started to have dealings with people who asked more and more of her. One day, the girl's mother came to her and said she needed her help. This was when her nightmares started.
When the breadwinner of a family dies, the emotional loss is devastating. But the loss of financial stability in such a tough environment can have the most devastating and life-changing impact of all. When the options are to eat or not to eat, people are forced to make choices that most people in the West cannot even begin to imagine being faced with.
In the crisis in our biggest priority has been to provide food, water or whatever other essential items to orphans and widows. We are also starting to help widows gain independence and self sufficiency. For example, by helping a widow with children establish a small business like sewing or making and selling food etc. so that she is able to be self sustaining and independent.
Our orphans and widows coordinator is an amazing mother whose children have grown up. She also has experience of raising three children under very difficult circumstances, often alone. She is working closely with the widows with children we are supporting, empowering them to be able to care for themselves and their children, without regular aid handouts. This is much better in the long term for these women as it encourages independent and helps to restore their dignity. Both she and the widows we are supporting are very excited about this project, which will enable the children they are supporting to be provided for long term.