By Basma Ourfali
Aleppo, 1 February 2016 – In the cold city of Aleppo, four-year-old Esraa and her three-year-old brother Waleed are chasing the shy sunny spots outside their shelter to escape the cold inside. Another harsh winter has stormed Syria. An estimated 2.8 million children are displaced inside Syria fleeing the conflict. Many live under dire conditions.
“My only wish for this year is that my little brother stops getting sick,” whispers Esraa.
Parents are trying their best to protect their children from winter’s squalid conditions, but nearly five years into the crisis, Esraa’s family, like many others, is financially exhausted. They cannot afford essentials like warm clothes. “All we can offer them is second-hand clothes from local charities, but they are not necessarily our children’s sizes,” explains Esraa’s father, who works as a cobbler and barely affords food and necessities for his family.
“Children who are living in unfinished buildings are exposed to extremely low temperatures and are most likely to develop upper respiratory infections. These infections can develop into severe cases of pneumonia and extreme lung inflammation,” says Dr. Khaldoun Al-Assad, UNICEF Health Officer.
Beyond a humanitarian response lies a human impact
Esraa and Waleed are two of nearly 600,000 children benefiting from UNICEF’s winter response that provides locally-procured winter clothing for children. A further 300,000 children are being provided with warm blankets and around 100,000 children are learning in classrooms with heaters protecting them from the cold.
“This is the best day ever,” chants Esraa in her new warm clothes. “Now with this warm outfit, Waleed will not get sick again.”
Waleed stretches his new pair of gloves around his small fingers. “This is my first gift ever,” he says.
First smile since winter started
“I don’t want to talk,” answers 5-year-old Taghreed when she was asked for the reason behind her sad quiet face.
“My husband passed away a year ago when a mortar hit our house,” Taghreed’s mother says “I remember that day in every detail. We left everything behind. Clothes, money and home. I grabbed my children and ran away with only the clothes we were wearing.”
Taghreed was her daddy’s girl.
“She is my youngest child and was her father’s favourite. These pink pajamas that she is wearing are the last thing he had brought her and she refuses to take them off”.
As the mother struggles to provide food for her four children, clothes are an unaffordable luxury in the family’s new life.
When UNICEF’s clothes distribution team reached Taghreed’s family, the little girl beamed when she received “the magic box” as she called it.
“I didn’t expect this to happen to me,” she chirps – “Taghreed” means chirp – after trying on the new winter outfit.
UNICEF’s “magic boxes” contain jackets, thermal wear, sweaters, trousers, socks, shoes, gloves, scarves and woolen hats.
Little Winter Bee
The continuing war has displaced over 6.5 million Syrians inside Syria. The winter cold puts displaced families under added stress. By meeting immediate winter needs, UNICEF aims to help vulnerable children get through these especially difficult months and to increase access to basic health services and education.
Winter clothes helped four-year-old Zainab break her isolation.
“Children made fun of Zainab for wearing light slippers in cold weather,” her mother explains. ”Since then, she stays away, alone, with her little monkey doll.”
Opening her box, and excitedly trying her new winter clothes, Zainab giggles. “I am a bee, I am a bee! I want to kick the soccer ball with my new boots,” jumping away from her old slippers to join children in the yard.