Orphaned Brothers Struggle to Survive in Damascus

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al-Hajar al-Aswad, Damascus
November, 2014

Youssef, 8 years old
Ahmed 12 years old
Um Farah, Aunt

Youssef and Ahmed are two young orphans who are struggling to survive with their two sisters. After losing their father and mother a couple of years ago, the children now struggle to survive in the besieged Damascus neighborhood of al-Hajar al-Aswad.

The children's father was killed during clashes with the Syrian army in their native Deir Ez Zour. Shortly after their father's death, the situation in Deir Ez Zour became too violent and Um Youssef escaped with the children to al-Hajar al-Aswad, a neighborhood in southern Damascus.

In the beginning of 2012, when the mother was standing in line to get some bread for her children, the Syrian government bombed the bakery and Um Youssef was severely injured. Due to the siege imposed on the area by the government, she was not able to get proper treatment for her wounds and she died shortly after. Youssef, Ahmed, and their two sisters became orphans.

After losing their mother, the children's aunt, Um Farah started looking after them. However, their lives did not get easier as Um Farah's ability to care for the children was limited as she was already poor herself and had her own children to look after. Regardless of the challenges, Um Farah did not give up on Youssef and his siblings, and tried to provide for them. However, the siege and resulting poverty forced Youssef and Ahmed to begin providing for themselves.

Now, Youssef and Ahmed scour the streets of al-Hajar al-Aswad for food and anything that they can use to survive.

A typical day for Ahmed and Youssef begins early when they go searching for drinkable water. After their search for water, they head to school in a makeshift classroom that was established by volunteers in al-Hajar al-Aswad. For the boys, school is considered they only good thing in their lives during the war. However, Youssef usually leaves in the middle class to go reserve a place in the line for the public kitchen. Once he reserves his spot he heads back to school.

After school is over, Youssef returns to the kitchen to pick up the food. They then take the food home to have a meal with the rest of the family.
After taking a short rest, they go out searching for firewood, which is the only material available under siege that can be used for cooking and heating. After an exhausting day they go to sleep.

Youssef and Ahmed can no longer remember cartoon shows; they have not watched any since the electricity was cut off two years ago. The only thing they care about is helping their aunt provide food and other needs for the family.

Youssef and Ahmed are examples of many Syrian orphans who struggle to survive.

The Syrian government imposed a siege on al-Hajar al-Aswad at the end of 2012 and the siege has thus far resulted in the death nearly 70 people from starvation and dehydration. The situation is getting worse after the regime increased the siege by cutting off the water in al-Hajar al-Aswad.
TRANSCRIPT:

Interviewer:
Ho do you spend your day Youssef?

Youssef:
We wake my aunt up to tell her that we are going to get water, so she would not worry about us. After we are done, we go to school, and when it is time to go to the kitchen, we take permission from the teacher and leave to go put the buckets and claim our place in line. Then we go back to school and after we are done we go to the kitchen, get the food, and come back home.

Interviewer:
Youssef what do you wish for?

Youssef:
To have my mother and father alive. When I see children with their parents, I feel sad, I see them with their parents, playing and joking, but I cannot do that because my parents are dead and I have nobody but my aunt.

Interviewer:
Youssef what do you want to be when you grow older?

Youssef:
I want to become an FSA fighter

Interviewer:
Why do you want to become and FSA fighter?

Youssef:
I want vengeance from the people who killed my mother and father.

Interviewer:
Ahmed, what do you wish to become when you grow older?

Ahmed:
I want to become a doctor because when my mother was injured, there were no doctors to treat her. That is why I want to become a doctor, so I can treat the ill and the injured.

Interviewer:
Ahmed, what do you wish for?

Ahmed:
I wish the old days would return and I can go back and play with the children I used to play with, and to go back to school and forget about everything and not wake up early to go look for firewood, water and food. That is how we spend our days, very tiring.

Um Farah, their aunt:
Their mother died while she was at the bakery getting bread. A bomb was dropped and her kidney was injured. And their father, he died before their mother did. He was going with some people and carrying a gun and some people betrayed them and 100 men were killed. Their father was one of them. They have nobody, I brought them to look after them and I will not give up on them. For their bad luck, things got worse and life got more difficult. We have been under siege for a year, without food or medical care or anything. We go to the garden and get some edible plants while the children go to the public kitchen and get some food, that is how we are managing.

Interviewer:
How many children are they?

Um Farah, their aunt:
They are four, two older girls and two boys.
That is how we are living, the children go everyday to get water from a place far away, it has been two months since they cut off the water.

Interviewer:
How do the children treat you?

Um Farah, their aunt:
They are great, they call me mom and I do not make them feel that I am only their aunt. I love them very much, and I treat them as if they were my own children.

The teacher:
Youssef’s case is similar to many cases we have here at the school. This child lost his family and he no longer has people to care for him. In the beginning, we felt that he is lonely and isolated, until we knew what his problem was, and as much as possible we tried to push him to communicate with the other children. In addition to that, similar to many other children, they bring buckets and container and take permission to leave class in order to go to the public kitchen and get food so they can survive.