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"Their eyes were laughing and dancing" - rehabilitating homes and providing life-saving shelter in Syria
Having somewhere to call home is important to many of us — somewhere to spend time with your loved ones; to have privacy, dignity and protection. Concern’s teams in Syria are working to ensure thousands of families have somewhere they can live.
Entering the thirteenth year of conflict, millions of people have been displaced and over 400,000 individuals are living in informal settlements in Syria. With sweltering temperatures in the summer and freezing conditions in winter, displaced people are left vulnerable and unprotected.
Concern’s Shelter team, which receives humanitarian funding from the European Union, has been bringing unfinished homes up to a basic standard, including installing doors, windows, electricity and bathroom facilities.
Through the programme, an agreement is signed between the landlord and tenants, allowing them to live there rent free for up to two years, in exchange for the work being carried out by Concern.
Each shelter costs about $1,000 to complete and so far 9,218 individuals have received shelter as part of the programme, including 2,043 individuals during last year alone.
"The most beautiful winter”
We met Azzam*, a man who was living in one of these shelters in Northern Syria last month with his wife, eight children and daughter-in-law. They had been living in the unfinished apartment for three years and Concern finished rehabilitating it last year. He spoke about how life-changing having a home has been for them.
Azzam explained: “When we started living in this building the house was without any doors or any windows. We were living without anything, when Concern came things got better.
“Before that, in winter, it was very, very cold because we had only blankets to put on the windows or the open holes in the walls, we didn’t have any doors so it was all open holes for rooms or for WC or for kitchen or for bathroom. Then in summer we would remove the blanket and just have open holes in the wall.
“In winter the blankets would not provide you with any protection from the weather outside, it was a very bad situation and the temperature would be under zero. It was very cold, but I don't have the money to fix it by myself and the owner would not fix it.”
He continued to say: “I can't work like I did when I was younger and I have three blind children. They cannot support me.
First Concern came and put all the doors and windows that you can see and with electricity, sewage system, water network, everything. After the house was finished, I spent the most beautiful winter after that, I started to pray for Concern. I feel like I have privacy in my life.
“There are 11 people living in the same house. Now we have doors and walls. If we have to think about going to the tent or camp, I will be more worried about the girls because there would be no walls and no windows.”
"It's not only a shelter but it's life-saving"
Jaafar is a structural engineer with Concern and said that high rents and a shortage of free houses have caused a housing crisis in Northern Syria.
He spoke about meeting one family who had been living in an old tent on a street and were overjoyed to have a home of their own, saying: “You cannot imagine the first moments which they enter in the shelter, they were in the street and now they have an apartment, and for free. You can see that their eyes were laughing and dancing.
"Children are the ones who can express their emotions most because they cannot hide them. So, they are very happy, especially when they have some basic things like just a small mattress and are playing.
“It's a great emotion when you are providing this assistance to this homeless family. Sometimes you feel that your heart is dancing. It's not only a shelter but it's life-saving also. So, protecting them against all the circumstances, protection, privacy.”
* Names have been changed