“I could feel and hear the bricks crumbling above us. Then there was darkness. I felt pain in several places. After a few seconds I tried to check on my children. When I saw the thick blood on my child’s face, I completely forgot that I was hurting. It was the kind of fear that I had never experienced in my life before.”
This is Salma’s recollection of the day she and her family were forced to leave their home in Syria.
On that day, her home and neighborhood turned into a warzone. A mix of sounds swept over the area like a whirlwind in the morning; loud explosions fused with sounds of children crying and screaming for help.
Salma was at home when the bombing began. She quickly grabbed her kids and went down to the ground floor of their house. After a number of explosions in the neighborhood, there was silence. Salma thought that the bombing had stopped. But then she suddenly heard airplanes returning to open fire; this time her family house was directly hit.
“I thought we were lost to the world forever under the rubble; that no one would ever be able to find and rescue us.”
When they finally managed to dig themselves out of what was once their home, Salma knew there and then that it was impossible for them to stay.
“It was a defining day of our lives. We could not stand it any longer… As we were trying to move through the residential neighborhoods of the city, there was rubble everywhere. There were dead or injured in every street we passed,” says Salma, pain visible in her eyes.
Fleeing to safety
When they finally reached safety, Salma and her family were forced to share a one room space with another family because there was not enough housing for everyone who had fled her town.
Salma and family had nothing: “We left our house without anything, we didn’t even take our children’s clothes. It was very difficult to start over; we felt like strangers in our own country.”
“It feels terrible to know that your house is only tens of kilometers away from here, and yet it feels like it’s millions of miles away because we can't go back.”
Seeing the suffering of others and feeling that she had to do something to help, Salma established an association together with a few of her new neighbors. The association focused on providing basic commodities such as bread and other food items for people in their community.
Volunteering helped Salma take a step back from her own trauma, gain new friends, and help provide for those closest to her.
“When you see that you are not the only one who suffers, it makes you feel for others [and] sympathize with them more,” says Salma.
Finding a Sense of Purpose
Not long after this, Salma found a role with Relief International as a Community Health Team Leader. In this role she works with displaced families in the community; talking to them about their experiences, discussing their health and hygiene related questions, raising awareness about available health and hygiene practices, and most importantly, helping them to access much needed medical services.
Every day during their visits, she says, the team witnesses many painful stories. They work a lot in camps, and Salma says that in every tent they visit, there is not a single family without a story of loss, or poverty or illness.
This is why the way her team approaches people is of utmost importance.
“During our first visit to any family or individual, our main goal is to first and foremost create a human relationship. We then explain the nature of our work, and slowly begin to impart our awareness messages.”
“I will never forget the smile on the face of one woman whom we revisited after she gave birth to her child.”
“We came to see her for the first time early in her pregnancy. Her pregnancy was very risky and she was so afraid that something might go wrong. We helped her get to one of our health centers and have a doctor guide her throughout the pregnancy.”
“We were by her side every step of the way.”
“Seeing things like that makes me feel that, in so many ways, my work is so extraordinary,” concludes Salma, with pride in her eyes.
Relief International in Syria
In 2020, we provided 1.1 million health consultations, and trained 428000 people on improving their physical and mental health in Syria.