Winter in Syria can be harsh. The temperatures remain below zero for long stretches. The cold plummets to as low as -11. Most people can’t protect themselves. They don’t have money to buy warm clothes, stoves or blankets. Rising fuel costs make survival all the more difficult.
Families have stopped using the central heating at home. It consumes too much fuel. It’s too expensive, even for the middle class. Instead, people use small heaters. They use gas or wood. Anything to cut costs. The downside is the smoke and respiratory disease in children.
Mounir from Damascus is a supplier for Caritas Syria. He said, “We stopped using the central heating in 2013. Fuel is very expensive, it’s unaffordable. We use small electric heaters if power is available. When the electricity is off, we switch to a gas heater. It’s too small to heat the apartment. My daughter suffers from asthma. It’s not healthy.”
There are 6.5 million people in Syria forced from their homes to other parts of the country by the war. Fighting continues. More people are fleeing their homes in Damascus, Hassakeh and Aleppo. They leave in a panic, with nothing. Their clothes will not be enough to stave off the cold.
Yusra is a mother of four children under 6 years old. She said, “My children have no heavy clothes. We left our belongings behind. When we fled, we kept throwing out luggage. We couldn’t carry them anymore. We were too tired. We arrived in Damascus with the clothes we were wearing. Nothing else.”
Schools have stopped using their central heating. Families send their children wrapped up in layers of clothes. Fadi is a 10 year old boy. He said, “I usually love school, but now it is crowded. We are 65 students in a tiny classroom.
“What makes it worse is the cold. Every student wears heavy clothes. We can’t fit into the chairs we are wearing so much. Girls bring blankets. My brain stops working during winter. My mum explains most of the lessons to me again when I get home.”
Some families live in parks. Winter is cruel, especially with the rain and snow. Khadija is a mother of two. She said, “We left our village in Ghouta a few months ago. Mine and my sister-in-law’s family live in a park in Damascus. It was better than a crowded shelter. There we lost our privacy, sharing intimate things with strangers.
“Despite temperatures of 45 degrees in the summer, living in the garden was ok. Now, with the winter, we don’t know what to do. It rained few days ago. All of us stayed in the park toilets until it stopped. We might go back to a shelter. We don’t have another choice.”
Caritas gave vouchers to 500 families in Damascus for warm clothes and shoes for children. It is part of the help that includes healthcare, education, shelter and counselling. Each voucher was divided into two parts, one for winter clothes, the other one for shoes.
Majida is a mother of four children. She said, “You can’t imagine the happiness that I felt when Caritas said they will offer my children clothes for winter. It was a real relief. The prices of clothes are unaffordable. New clothing was a dream for my kids. They really need this aid to be able to go to school every day and to stay a little bit warm in our cold apartment.”
The voucher system meant that families were able to choose their own clothes from different shops. Walaa is a mother of three children. She said, “I was worried about being able to buy new clothes for my children to prepare them for winter. Now I don’t have to worry anymore as Caritas offered us winter clothes.
“My boys were very happy to choose them. Fahed was overwhelmed when he bought a sweater with the drawing of his favourite cartoon. He said he will be the envy of all his class. I would like to thank Caritas, who offered my children warm clothes and big joy!”