Damascus, 27 February 2013 – Eager to put their time and skills to good use, 20 refugee and displaced women took part in a Jesuit Refugee Service workshop, not only finding psychosocial support from the group and staff, but also producing much-needed clothing for families affected by the violence in need of emergency relief.
Hailing from Homs, Deir-e-Zor and the hinterland of Damascus, some of the women were forced to seek safety in Damascus city. Others, Iraqi refugees, have lived in the city for years after fleeing violence and persecution at home, remaining in Syria because they have nowhere else to go.
With this winter being one of the coldest on record, the needs for adequate winter clothing are many as most families only possess summer clothes. In addition to buying and distributing clothes for families, JRS decided to take their services once step further and establish activities designed to help women cope with trauma, as well as meeting the needs of other affected families.
For two months, the women gathered twice weekly in the cosy JRS house in Bab Touma district in Damascus to knit bonnets and scarves for 200 local and displaced children participating in JRS educational and psychosocial activities.
At the suggestion of a group of volunteers who help organise children's activities for JRS, a decision was made to hold a party for the children to help them deal with the stress of the conflict and as an opportunity to have fun, and also to accept their bonnets and scarves which the women had made.
JRS provides transport to and from activities for these children as they live in areas where bombardments and fighting occurs daily. Without safe transportation, most of these children would not be able to get to school or to afternoon activities at the JRS centre.
"In a moment of courage, one bus driver who regularly brings the children here went into a dangerous area that no one had dared enter for weeks. He collected 40 children, and brought them to the JRS centre in Dwelaa district. When he arrived with all the children, we were completely astonished, and he simply said 'these children are the ones in most need. Help them'. It was truly touching", recalled Fouad Nakhla SJ, JRS project director in Damascus.
"Most people in the city rent their apartments; they've lost their jobs and can't afford to send their children to school. There is not a lot of support for them because they're not seen as 'displaced', yet their needs are great too", Fouad explained.
JRS Damascus continues to provide emergency relief which includes thick blankets, mattresses, food baskets and hygiene kits to 1,200 families on a monthly basis, as well as educational or psychosocial activities daily at its centre.
You can support the efforts of JRS in Syria here.
Zerene Haddad, JRS Middle East and Middle Africa Communications Officer