I had been in Syria for months before I received my first security approval to travel to one of Medair’s project sites. Our Syrian staff members carry out most of our hands-on work, because they are more easily able to access families in need. So when my chance came to travel, I welcomed the opportunity to visit the people living in Artouz, a town situated 15km to the south-west of the Syrian capital Damascus, and see the impact of our first community water project for myself.
As we drove south from the office, it was striking how rapidly the surroundings changed. The Damascus scenery of polished multi-storey apartments lasted only minutes before giving way to informal housing illegally occupied by poor or displaced Syrians. After stopping for numerous military checkpoints, we arrived in Artouz.
On the outskirts of Artouz, displaced Syrians are living in unfinished buildings without running water. They walk to collect water from a central point and carry it back to their house, but the supply in town has been limited and water in open containers can become contaminated and unsafe to drink.
In response, Medair – with EU funds - repaired and improved four wells and a large storage tank and supplied a generator to boost the water supply for the town. To help the Syrians living in unfinished buildings, we gave 175 vulnerable families water storage kits, including a household water tank.
One family’s brand new water tank stood in sharp contrast to the two rusty barrels they had previously used to store their water. In one building, I met families who had been sharing a small tank that held enough water for only a two-day supply. Now they combine their Medair tanks to create a central system which provides enough water for the entire building for a full week. Over and over again, I saw the impact such basic items can have on daily life.
Yet I found myself thinking about one man, Illias, who had received the same relief package from Medair, but had troubles far more pressing than a water tank.
Ilias is elderly, chronically ill, and disabled. Displaced by conflict, he lives by himself on the second floor of a building that is just a cement block shell. Unable to move without a wheelchair, Ilias is stuck on the second floor of his building. Ilias said he was grateful for the water tank, but instead of using the wood pallets to correctly install it, he dismantled them to make frames to cover the large holes in his wall with blankets.
He was in a lot of pain and had no means of getting to a hospital or calling an ambulance, so we called an ambulance for him. Standing there, I saw how conflict turns lives upside down. He seemed so alone, with no one to turn to and nowhere to go.
As we drove back to the office, I wondered how many people like Ilias were hidden behind every unfinished building we passed.
I returned home humbly grateful for everything that I have, but carrying an increased sense of urgency to help those here who are suffering, knowing that the little that we can do leaves a lasting impact.