We have provided safe homes for vulnerable children since our first village opened near Damascus in 1981. Our emergency relief program, launched in 2012, helps internally displaced people in Aleppo, Damascus and Tartous by working to strengthen families and offering activities, trauma care, nutritional support and education for children. Emergency teams also assist Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Europe.
This photo essay illustrates the humanitarian assistance we have provided for children and families over five years, and how the Syrian war has affected SOS Children’s Villages.
As fighting spreads across the country, SOS Children’s Villages begins delivering aid and makes preparations for a humanitarian appeal to provide Child Friendly Spaces (CFSs) and other programs for families suffering from the trauma of displacement and conflict. Those fleeing fighting, such as these children living near Aleppo, sought shelter in tents and makeshift camps outside the city.
After a year of war, residents of the northern city of Aleppo face shortages of bread and other staples. Intensified fighting prompts the evacuation of the SOS Children’s Village Aleppo in September. More than 60 children are safely transferred to Damascus, where the organisation established its first village in in 1981. "The village is empty now. It is really sad, since more than 17 years it was never empty and now it feels as there is no life", says one employee of the Children’s Village in Aleppo.
An emergency program begins in Aleppo with the opening of a CFS in July. By mid-year, SOS Children’s Villages provides more than 60,000 meals to at-risk families in Damascus and Aleppo. A campaign is launched to promote the right to education and to get 6,000 children back to school. An SOS Children’s Villages volunteer prepares school bags stuffed with supplies for children in Damascus.
More than 2,500 Syrians are crossing into neighbouring Lebanon every day, according to the UN refugee agency, overwhelming local communities. SOS Children’s Villages launches an emergency program in Lebanon designed to prevent child neglect, abuse or exploitation while also helping to create understanding between Lebanese hosts and Syrian refugees. Here, two Syrian women care for children at a refugee camp in eastern Lebanon.
In January, SOS Children’s Villages distributes winter clothing to more than 10,000 children and provides food for 13,000 people in Damascus. At least 7,500 people in Aleppo receive food parcels and other provisions as winter set in. In one devastated area of Aleppo, an SOS Children’s Villages field worker is on hand to help displaced families get water.
Civil war is having a growing impact on children’s education, healthcare and living conditions. UNICEF estimates that among the 6 million displaced people in Syria, half are children. SOS Children’s Villages works to help get children, such as this boy in Damascus, back to school. The mother of a 7-year-old helped by SOS Children’s Villages says her son “started waking up in the morning on his own and has returned to school. He is now doing his homework regularly and is happier.”
SOS Syria continues to support at-risk children and families through the CFS and interim care centres (ICC) in Damascus and Aleppo, and provides assistance to displaced families in other areas. In the coastal city of Latakia, an SOS Children’s Villages field worker talks with a child from a family that has fled fighting. “Amid the horror and despair of the conflict in Syria, it is children and young people who are suffering most”, says Richard Pichler, then-CEO of SOS Children’s Villages International.
With one-fifth of Syria’s 23.5 million people having fled the country and increasing numbers heading to Europe, SOS Children’s Villages launches emergency programs in Greece, Hungary, FYR Macedonia and Serbia to assist children and families seeking refuge in Europe. Refugees walk near Gevgelija, in southern Macedonia, in December.
Intensified fighting takes a heavy toll on schools and hospitals around Aleppo. In April, fighting forces the closure of the SOS Children’s Villages CFS and ICC. More than 20 children living at the ICC are safely transferred to Damascus. SOS Syria provides meals, baby supplies and family hygiene items for displaced families from Aleppo. “There is an urgent need for more food as thousands of people are now fleeing the fighting”, says one SOS Syria field worker in Aleppo. “We are deeply concerned about the impact on children and there is a desperate need to ensure that they have food, water, medical care and safe shelter.” A medical worker tends to a baby at a health centre for displaced families. In addition to check-ups, SOS Syria arranged treatment or emergency surgery for 175 children.
SOS Children’s Villages works in Damascus to help vulnerable families so that children who have been sent out to earn extra money can return to school. Hundreds of school-age children have returned to the classroom under the work-to-school program. In December, a second SOS Children’s Village is announced to relieve overcrowding in Damascus.
A siege of Aleppo at the end of 2016 caused further disruptions to power and water supplies. SOS Children’s Villages offers warm clothing, blankets and other winter supplies to families in need as the winter gripped the region.
SOS Children’s Villages is stepping up its emergency response with the opening of two CFSs, mobile services and an interim care centre in Tartous, a coastal region that is home to thousands of people displaced by conflict. “Child trauma is rife in Syria”, says Alia Al-Dalli, International Director of the Middle East and North Africa Region. “With the opening of the child friendly spaces plus mobile activities in Tartous, SOS Children’s Villages will be in a position to help thousands of children traumatised by conflict, displacement and in some cases loss of family.” SOS Syria is also working in cooperation with UNICEF for provide classes for 1,200 children at two centres in Tartous.
Background on SOS in Syria
SOS Children’s Villages has worked in Syria for more than 30 years, providing care and homes for vulnerable children. With civil war taking a toll on civilians, an emergency response program (ERP) was launched in 2012 to provide a range of assistance to children and families in Damascus and Aleppo. The current focus is on providing humanitarian assistance to families displaced by the conflict, educational support for children, and psychological, health and preventive care for children, as well as pregnant and lactating mothers. We provide daily meals, water, food staples, basic medical care and maternal support – benefiting thousands of people displaced by fighting. In Damascus, we provide homes and care for more than 400 children and young adults and support 340 vulnerable families.