“Where did Fadi go?”, was my question, as I turned around to discover that Fadi who was my guide in a extremely poor neighbourhood of Damascus was no longer at my side. As my anxiety levels were beginning to rise, I heard Fadi’s familiar voice at the far side of a nearby diesel truck.
I approached and saw him entering the number of the truck driver into his phone. As Fadi resumed his guide duties he told me that he had just managed to buy 100 litres of diesel for his family- ‘that’s all we can afford, but at least we will have something to keep us warm for the coldest few days of winter.’ To provide this small amount of fuel for heating, for a few of the coldest days of the upcoming winter, Fadi had to spend what is equivalent to 6 months’ salary of the average school teacher with about 20 years of experience. Most public servants earn far less.
I did wonder, about the choices to be made on using this fuel – enough for about 50 – 60 hours of heat. Even those limited hours of heat will only heat one room in the home, using a commonly used stove called a sobia. Central heating is either non-existent or idle due to the absence of fuel or the inability to afford the oil.
Fadi and his family are some of the lucky ones, as he earns more than the average income and so he could buy some fuel. The families that JRS work with do not have this ‘luxury’, the luxury of having to buy and store 100 litres of fuel for the 5 or 6 coldest days of the winter ahead. ‘Luxury’ is having enough money to buy food to have a reasonable meal for a few days a week – ‘you do not have to eat every day’ one woman said, ‘you can survive on bread some days’.
Laura who has a young child told me she is dreading the winter ahead. With the limited income of the family, she has to choose between baby milk and heating fuel. “I can choose to spend money on four hours of heating or baby milk to stretch for a month – of course I will choose the baby milk”
Millions of families like Laura face similar desperate dilemmas. They can only live in hope that the winter will not be cold or that winter is short.
I remember last New Year’s eve in the height of the Syrian winter. I never felt cold like that before, as the sub-zero temperatures ushered in the New Year. Like many Syrians, I was fully clothed in bed, with gloves, hat and several blankets. I was not sure if I would die of hypothermia or crush injuries from the weight of blankets. I thought that if I was in Ireland, I could plug in an electric heater. However, the 30 mins of electricity in the house that day had long passed.
Many households where we work have no electricity connection at all or if they do, it is to a local generator and the connection is only strong enough to power lights and charge mobile phones. It will not power heaters or kettles. I thought I might boil some water on the gas, but gas cylinders can cost more than a month’s salary and gas has to be rationed by the household for cooking.
One Syrian friend of mine put it this way, ‘nothing to do but use the Syrian way of staying warm in winter – layers of clothing and blankets.’
That is why the IJI Winter Appeal is so important. Last winter with the help of the Christmas appeal, JRS was able to provide almost 2,000 children of poor families with warm winter clothing. We were also able to distribute a food hamper to over 1,400 vulnerable households. This winter we would like to do the same and more.
For as little as 10 euros you can help us ensure that a child who has no hope of having a decent winter jacket will get one. For 20 euros we can ensure that a child will get a jacket, shoes, a hat and some base layers. For 30 Euros we can provide a vulnerable elderly person with a food hamper which will not only ease the pain of winter, but might be the difference between life and death.
This winter, everyone in Ireland is feeling the pinch and many households will struggle with the cost of living crisis. As Syrians enter winter, and the 12th year of war and humanitarian crisis, the battle for survival is real – not everyone will see spring time.
Please Donate today to keep a Syrian child warm this Christmas