“We embraced one another while sleeping, to keep ourselves warm, and said a prayer to help us get through it. I didn’t know what to do next. I was afraid, but my kids were my guiding light.” says Mounfed.
The devastating earthquakes of February 06 2023 caused widespread damage in both Syria and Türkiye and were followed by more than 11,000 aftershocks. , causing immense destruction, and suffering for the people of the country – the impact of the earthquakes was felt across the region.
In Aleppo, people who cannot return home, or who are too afraid to stay in their houses, can stay in collective centres; most are schools or mosques which may not be equipped as family living spaces. Medair is helping to ensure that collective centres have good sanitation facilities and plenty of clean water. Visiting a collective centre with our water, sanitation, and hygiene team a heart-breaking experience which made me keenly aware of the hardships that so many people have been forced to endure.
The shelter was a public school which was surrounded by collapsed buildings and rubble. Gusts of wind kicked up large clouds of debris . The shelter was a large, open space housing hundreds of people who were living in classrooms or in tents in the yard.
Despite the cramped living conditions in the overcrowded classrooms, the atmosphere was surprisingly uplifting. I could see how strong and resilient people are, despite their experiences, they still had hope and were doing their best to make the most of their situation. Others were simply trying to cope with the trauma of what they had gone through.
Mounfed, 43 years old, lives in Al Fardous, just two blocks away from the shelter. She lives with her three children – two girls and one boy, and they are suddenly facing a daily battle for survival.
Mounfed’s house was deemed unsafe to return to by the local authorities; home is not an option anymore. Now, she stays together with her family at the shelter, where they share a classroom with another local family from Aleppo.
“The night of the earthquake, my family and I were asleep. Fear, fear, fear – I get goosebumps just thinking about it” she says running her hand down her arm.
“I woke up in fear to the building shaking and to the screams of my children calling out for mama. ‘Mama, mama’, is all I could hear. There was fear in their voices; It was terrifying,” she remembers.
“I had no time to think. The safety of my children was my main priority. I told myself get your kids to safety – it’s all that matters. I rushed as fast as I could toward my kid’s bedroom, to make sure we evacuate the building immediately. The sounds of the building trembling and the walls cracking, were indescribable. For a split second, I thought this is it for us. We’re not going to make it, I told myself. Determined to get my kids to safety, I was able to rush them down the stairs. It took me a little while longer, to evacuate. As you can see, I am a person of short stature. My legs are not as effective as they once were. I had multiple surgeries to correct a bone deformity when I was young, but it came with a setback. I am very grateful I am still able to walk on my own. It takes some effort, but I get it done. I am a very determined person. After rushing my kids downstairs, I was able to, fortunately, make it down” she says while catching her breath.
Mounfed and her children remained on the street for more than a day before finding their way to the shelter. “The nights were dark, long, and cold,” she remembers. “We embraced one another while sleeping, to keep ourselves warm and said a prayer to help us get through it. I didn’t know what to do next. I was afraid, but my kids were my guiding light” she says as tears appeared in her eyes.
“The day following the earthquakes was a complete catastrophe. There was rubble and debris everywhere. Many others were out on the street too and it was raining relentlessly. A couple of buildings across from our home had entirely collapsed by the force of the impact. Staring at the frightening site in front of me, I realized we could have been killed. People were shouting, kids were crying hysterically. Others were looking for loved ones going through the rubble calling out their names. It was sad and my heart ached. At that time, I wasn’t aware that I had lost relatives to the earthquake. I Iost three people dear to me in the earthquakes. It took a minute to process the reality of the situation, however, I had to remain strong for my children; they had just gone through so much.”
As the days go by, Mounfed is focused on caring for her children. “I live for them. Every day, I make time to talk to them, to make sure they have no traumatic side effects. We talk about what they are feeling and how we can make the situation better for ourselves. When they laugh, I think to myself with God’s blessing, they will be all right. They are very eager to return home, so I pray to God we do eventually.”
The children wonder when they will return home, and Manfoud replies “when God is ready to bring us back home.” Sometimes she returns home by herself to bring back some essential belongings like clothing or blankets.
“I’ve thought about bringing them with me, but I know it would be too hard for them to visit and then leave again – and frankly, I’d rather not take the risk in this case. It’s a difficult time for our family now. We have a home, but we cannot return to it. That is a reality we must live with” she says emotionally.
In the shelter, Manfoud and her children share with another family of four. They were given mattresses and some blankets, and have created their own small area. When they sleep, Manfoud lies in the middle so she can comfort her children on either side.
“Here at the school, we receive all the essential services. Most importantly we receive clean safe water, which is the most important to me. Safe clean water is the essence of life. Knowing I can access it here, without having to go through the trouble of walking long distances to access it is truly a blessing. Keep in mind I am the head of my household, and I cannot go the distance because of my condition. It would be impossible for my family to otherwise access drinkable water. So, for that, we are truly grateful and blessed. If we count our blessings, we are blessed to have safe clean water. We are blessed to have each other. We are blessed to have people like you looking after the affected like us. In my prayers at night, I will always pray for your presence. Without it, we wouldn’t be here” she says humbly, while joyfully smiling.
Thousands of people are seeking shelter in collective centres which were not intended for housing families on an ongoing basis or during the bitter winter conditions. When the centres are lacking an adequate supply of water, Medair ensures that water trucks visit each day. Through funding from the Syrian Humanitarian Fund (SHF), Medair supplies about 50,000L to a total of 6,000 people in the affected areas in Aleppo.
Medair’s earthquake response and services in Aleppo are funded by the Syrian Humanitarian Fund (SHF), Chaine du Bonheur, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and financial support of the European Union.
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.