Living in Damascus, the capital of Syria, can feel like living in a bubble. Generally shielded from the conflict, it is a relatively comfortable city to live in. Here, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine the level of destruction that a decade of conflict has had on the rest of the country.
I recently visited a family in Aleppo. An elderly man living in an apartment with his wife, their daughter and her four children, all of them under the age of 12. Seven people living in a building that was completely destroyed. The apartment was dark even during daytime and full of rubble and debris.
Photos: Victor Velasco, DRC's Country Director in Syria
No one in the family had any shoes. The kitchen and the toilet were in bad shape. All of them slept on the floor with blankets despite the cold winter weather, and they only had two to three hours of electricity per day.
As a father myself, I find it very difficult to imagine living in this situation with children. How can they even begin to hope for a better future?
The Danish Refugee Council’s team in Aleppo has helped them rehabilitate their apartment by repairing doors and windows and by improving the insulation, thereby giving them a bit of warmth and privacy.
This has had a major impact on this specific family. But in the bigger picture, it is a drop in the ocean.
I have been in Syria for 12 months now. But due to travel restrictions, I had not been able to leave Damascus until recently when I finally had the opportunity to visit DRC’s field offices in Homs, Hama and Aleppo. This was when I met the family living in the destroyed building.
You do not have to drive very far from Damascus before you see the devastating realities of ten years of conflict. Only minutes after we left the city on our way to Aleppo, we passed by Eastern Ghouta and Douma, where very intense fighting took place in 2018. All the buildings were destroyed.
I always try to identify what is needed and what we as humanitarians can do. But when you see the level of destruction in Syria, it is overwhelming. I have worked in the humanitarian sector in more than 20 countries, and I have never seen anything like this.
Rebuilding Syria is going to take decades, and I am not just talking about rebuilding schools, hospitals, roads, powerplants, bridges - a material perspective. The emotional, psychological, social, and societal impacts of the conflict are going to take an immense effort to rebuild before the more than 12 million Syrians that have been forced to leave their homes, can safely return.
As humankind, we must put in a real effort to find a durable, peaceful solution for the Syrian people. This is a task for the entire international community.
Visiting the DRC field offices and meeting my colleagues made a great impression. Homs, Hama and Aleppo are all cities that have been the epicentre of the violence at some point during the conflict and the level of destruction is impossible to imagine.
I have been in Syria for twelve months now, and I keep reminding myself that my colleagues here are not just DRC staff. They are Syrians. They have lived through 10 years of devastating conflict. Some have been displaced themselves, some have lost their houses, their cars, their properties, and many have lost family and friends. Sometimes, the people they set out to help are their neighbours.
While it is heartbreaking to meet a family of seven living in rubble, and even more heartbreaking to know that the needs of people just like them are enormous, it comforts me to see that my colleagues make a difference for people every day.
Even if it may seem like just a drop in the ocean, they make all the difference for those they help.
In March 2021, the Syrian conflict has lasted a full decade. More than 12 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes. DRC has been present in Syria since 2008 but scaled up crisis-response in 2012.