How do parents manage in earthquake-hit Syria? ‘No toys, no games, no schooling’

When I speak to people who have witnessed first-hand life in disaster-hit areas, one of the questions that always comes to my mind is "how are they managing to look after their children?”

Perhaps it's because I am a mother myself, consumed as we all are in the Western world with privileged guilt – does my child spend too much time in front of a screen? Has she eaten enough fruit and vegetables this week? Did she remember to do her maths homework?

To parents here, these things can feel vitally important. Yet for mothers and fathers in northern Syria, the fears have become absolutely basic: “Has my child had any food at all today? Where will we sleep tonight?” For those able to think slightly further ahead: “Will she ever go to school again?”

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Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the United Nations, recently described a visit to the region, which was hit by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake a month ago.

A mother spends time with her children in a park provided by an aid organisation in earthquake-hit Syria.A mother spends time with her children in a park provided by an aid organisation in earthquake-hit Syria.
A mother spends time with her children in a park provided by an aid organisation in earthquake-hit Syria.

"I visited a reception centre where hundreds of people are living with nothing, but the clothes they were wearing when they escaped their homes,” he said. “The children who were there were dirty and hadn’t eaten that day. There is nothing for them to do. No toys, no games, no schooling.”

Education, stimulation and basic emotional needs in the communities which are still reeling from grief and trauma are not being – cannot be – met for children whose homes have been devastated by the quake.

Instead, basic survival instinct kicks in. Future plans cannot be made. Refugees living in camps have told me before this is the hardest thing. Hopes and dreams which had at one point seemed a possibility in a homeland where education and self development was part of ordinary life found living in limbo the greatest struggle.

Later this week, I’ll be publishing more on life after the earthquake in Syria.

A month has passed since the disaster. There is an assumption that it is, to a certain extent, done. Yet, for many on both the Syrian and Turkish side of the border, the latest wave of hardship is just beginning.

Years of bitter conflict have already left Syria in tatters. Before the earthquake, more than 90 per cent of people there were already living in poverty. Aid workers tell me the price of basic food had already soared over the past year, since the invasion of Ukraine affected grain supplies. Yet now, further shortages caused by the earthquake have pushed commodity prices out of reach.

Families are living in buildings which have been badly damaged – and which could collapse at any time. Yet the alternative, leaving their homes to sleep in tents and makeshift structures in temporary refugee camps, seems worse.

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In Turkey, things are marginally better. Yet there are still many people living in limbo – sleeping on the streets outside of their ruined houses, bedding down on the floor of sports centres and community halls.

Rebuilding – on both sides of the border – will take time. Charities tell me that international aid has been slow – a United Nations drive to raise $397 million [£330m] for emergency relief is less than halfway there.

The message from aid workers is simple. Please do not forget.



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