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  • 4 mins read time
  • Published: 13th March 2020
  • Blog by Phillip Graham

Syria crisis anniversary: Stitching lives back together

This coming Sunday (March 15th) marks nine years since the start of the conflict in Syria. The crisis continues to cause tremendous human suffering to people both inside and outside the country.

Since the conflict started in March 2011, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. Homes and schools have been destroyed, neighbourhoods lack clean running water and sanitation, and people lack the means of making a living to feed their families. 2 in 3 Syrians – over 13 million women, men, and children – continue to find themselves in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

woman refugee regains her livelihood
Asmaa, 40, a dressmaker, sits in her little shop in AlBwaidieh, a rural area in Deir Ez-Zor, Syria. Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

No one ever thinks it'll happen to them...

Our work in Syria includes providing people with support to help make a living and grow food, such as the distribution of seeds and assets to farmers, cash for work programmes, and supporting women and men to gain new skills through training.

One of those who has benefited from our help is 40-year-old Asmaa, a dressmaker from al-Bwaidieh, in Syria rural Deir Ez-Zor district.

Asmaa said: “Before the war, I was known to friends, family and customers as an incredibly talented dressmaker. I built myself a career to the beat of the needle and the bob, and my designs made for an excellent source of income for me and my family. I even had my own shop where I would work the day away.

“But all that changed seven years ago when my town of al-Bwaidieh, in rural Deir ez-Zor, was sucked into the violence. We had to leave and couldn’t carry much. I hid my most prized possession, my sewing machine, beneath a bundle of hay and even said a little prayer that it might be there when I returned – if I returned that is.

“We headed for Qamishli in north eastern Syria for safety. There, we lived through what would become our worst days. For nearly four years we worked random jobs, none of which were sustainable or provided enough to keep us from having to rely on others to make it through this war. It was a struggle; a real struggle for me, my brother and my mother.

“Oh, how I wished I had my sewing tools on me so that my family and I could live in dignity. You see, no one ever thinks it’ll happen to them until it does. Humans, we think we are immune… to war, violence, displacement. But it could happen to anyone, and it happened to us.”

Now it's all about survival

Asmaa continued: “Our entire lives have changed; taken a turn for the worse. We spent all our savings, sold our jewellery and whatever else we had just to survive.

“We returned to our home only recently, and the first thing I did was look for my sewing machine. And there she was, waiting for me in the same place I had left her.

“Strange how sometimes the smallest things become so dear to us. Such is life when you are living in a warzone: a sewing machine becomes so much more than just a tool; it is a means to an independent life, to self-sufficiency.

“Now, we are stitching back together the pieces of our lives. I still long for the old days, when I first started my career. Back then, people wanted the finest garments in town; now it’s all about survival.”

What we are doing - with your support

In Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, we are helping more than 1.5 million people with life-saving clean water, sanitation, essential clothing items, cash and vital food aid, supporting people to grow nutritious food, protecting them from violence and abuse, as well as helping refugees make a living.