THE REAL HEARTBREAK OF SYRIAN CRISIS
Coming face to face with the victims of the war in Syria fills one with anguish, writes
WE READ about the plight of thousands of Syrian refugees. We see distressing photos and footage on newspapers, social media and on television.
But when one comes face to face with the victims of the devastating war, it is really heartbreaking.
I have been in Turkey this week starting to get an idea of the scale of suffering that is being experienced.
I am with Qari Ziyaad Patel, Ayesha Patel and Moulanas Abdulla Chohan and Mohammed Motala, as volunteers with the Al-Imdaad Foundation, which in turn is the main southern African partner of the Turkish-based IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation.
We flew into Istanbul from Johannesburg and then moved by air and then road to Reyhanli, which is on the TurkishSyrian border.
The besieged city of Aleppo is about 60km away. Idlib is not too far from the border, and renewed violence north of the town claimed 20 lives this week.
As we visited a hospital where Syrian victims were being treated on Tuesday evening, we suddenly heard rocket fire on a nearby mountain on the Syrian side.
The IHH runs a massive programme in this region. I counted about 100 trucks loaded with food, blankets, mattresses and other essential ready to go to the various camps. Most left the following morning for Aleppo.
The warehouses are filled to capacity, and as more supplies arrive from donors across the world, truckloads continue leaving for refugee camps in Syria. The figures make stark reading: There are about 3 million Syrian refugees on the border with Turkey. In Reyhanli alone there are 120 000 refugees.
A third of the refugees are young and should be at school, but only about half of them are.
There are 1 500 orphans (aged one to 12) in Reyhanli alone and just more than 30 000 orphans along the border area.
There are 250 refugees in Reyhanli who are paralysed. Many are children. Some of them were shot and others were injured by bombs.
The IHH runs 40 bakeries, and 2 million loaves of bread are distributed to refugees daily. Their staff tell me that thousands of “block houses” are urgently needed at a cost of $8 000 (R110 000) each to house the refugees in Syria, just 5km from the Turkish border.
There is also a pressing need for blankets and warm clothing. It’s freezing here and it’s about to snow.
The IHH says baby food is also critically needed, along with clothing, medicine and nappies.
Construction is under way on the Tiny Hearts Village, which will be the biggest orphanage in the world.
My heart broke when I visited an orphanage and women’s trauma centre in the area.
Some kids draw their houses which were bombed. Others draw their dads and moms who were killed.
Little Ahmed posed with such a lovely smile as we took selfies. The two-year-old held onto my hand with his tiny fingers and refused to let go. He showed me his small “tent”, which he said in Arabic was his home.
Outside we met a nine-year-old girl in a wheelchair. Paralysed from the waist down, she told us how a bomb went off in her home.
“Give my love to the people of South Africa,” she whispered with a gentle smile as we left.
Not far away was a centre for Syrian women. Many had been raped in front of their children. Most of them are now widows. The counselling continues.
A hospital and rehabilitation centre brought home the real effects of the war.
Severe burns. Missing legs. Hands blown off. Some paralysed.
One man told us: “I’m angry. This is what war does… God must help us.” One of his legs was blown off by a mine.
Two teenagers lay on nearby beds, paralysed. “I was at home and heard a very loud bang. It was a rocket. My leg was gone,” says one of them.
An elderly man at the rehabilitation centre told how he arrived from Aleppo a few days ago.
“There is nothing left in Aleppo,” he said. This is the sad reality of war. Back on the streets of Reyhanli, some children brave the cold and rain, begging for food on the streets.
As we are about to go for supper, we are told of a Syrian widow in urgent need of an eye operation.
We are taken to an apartment, and a doctor shows us the medical reports. The 31-year-old mother-of-two has only 1 percent eyesight. If nothing is done, she stands the risk of going completely blind. $8 000 is needed for the operation. We record a video message and hope someone back home will assist. It takes 10 minutes to raise the money.
The woman, together with two other Syrian widows, immediately start praying. “You brought us renewed hope on life,” the one tells us.
It’s an immediate affirmation of the work that has already been done back home in South Africa to raise an unprecedented R15 million to #SAveSyria in a daylong telethon. Already two-thirds of those pledges have been paid into OperationSA’s trust accounts.
The scale of suffering is epic. We were warned that what we were going to see is depressing. Many volunteers who have been here from across the world leave traumatised, the images continuing to haunt them.
I feel the pain of the Syrian refugees. The world needs to feel their pain. We are one!
#OperationSA has received several requests from people back home who want to come and volunteer with humanitarian work. We are exploring options. There is a particular need for doctors, psychologists and teachers.
We have also received scores of enquiries about people who want to adopt orphans. Experts here say this is not an option for now because taking children out of this environment can be detrimental, to say nothing of the legal issues involved. Yusuf Abramjee is a social activist and founder of the NGO #OperationSA. If you would like to make a donation to the #SAveSyria #OperationSA initiative, SMS 072 3 99 99 99 or go to www.operationsa.org, or you can follow @abramjee on Twitter
DISPLACED: There are 1 500 orphans (aged one to 12) in the Syrian city of Reyhanli and just more than 30 000 orphans along the border area.