Shahed and Ahed are typical siblings. They laugh together, play together and sometimes they fight. “Grow up!” Ahed is shouting at Shahed in their caravan home in Za’atari camp, until the pair of them fall over, laughing.
“We’ve lived In Za’atari for one and a half years,” says Shahed, 5. “We came from Daraa in Syria but now we have to live in Jordan.”
Shahed and Ahed belong to a family of seven. Their father is still in Syria, so they live with their mother and several members of their extended family in one of the world’s largest refugee camps, now home to almost 90,000 people.
“We stayed as long as we could in Syria,” says Najwah, the children’s mother. “But the kids were really struggling by the end. There were attacks all the time and the children had nightmares. They were so afraid. Their father was captured and put in prison. We just fled.”
When we first came, we lived in a tent. The children were always sick and cold. We couldn’t get medicine. It was a bad time.”
Coming to Jordan hasn’t been easy for the family, but they acknowledge that they didn’t have an alternative.
“It’s safer in Jordan,” says Najwah. “There is no more safety in Syria. There once was but not now. It’s better to live in Jordan. We are not always treated so nicely, but at least we are safe. When we first came, we lived in a tent. The children were always sick and cold. We couldn’t get medicine. It was a bad time.”
Now, living in a caravan, Najwah says the children’s health is better, and that she isn’t as worried about their safety as she was before. Life, however, is still difficult.
“The winter was terrible... It took a long time to get a heater, and then to get gas for it. We still don’t have enough blankets,” says Najwah
“The winter was terrible,” says Najwah. “We thought it was good to be out of the tent but even the caravan flooded and everything filled with water. It took a long time to get a heater, and then to get gas for it. We still don’t have enough blankets.”
Keeping children warm in Za’atari this past winter became one more burden for struggling parents, as they continued trying to meet the growing immediate needs of their families without any additional financial resources. With winter cames extra costs; for heaters, clothing, blankets, waterproofing for shelters, and gas. Most Syrian refugees are living without incomes, and with temperatures falling below zero (particularly during winter snowstorm Alexa) additional strain has been placed on families.
Recognising this ongoing need, World Vision recently provided 26,649 winter coats to children in Za’atari, to keep children warm and safe, but also to give their parents some peace of mind.
“I heard from my neighbour that there would be a winter coats distribution,” says Najwah. “We walked up together as a family to get the coats from the distribution site.”
Both Ahed and Shahed enjoy their new coats, but Shahed is particularly taken with hers. “My jacket is very warm and very nice,” she says. “I just want to wear it all the time. I want to wear it to bed. It is so warm I could wear it without wearing anything else!
"We didn’t have winter coats before and it was so cold. I used to have to wear a blanket inside. I couldn’t go outside to play before because I didn’t have a jacket... now I can play outside all the time! I play hide and seek, I hide behind the caravan, over there, or sometimes inside, or behind my aunt’s caravan,” says Ahed.
“We didn’t have winter coats before and it was so cold. I used to have to wear a blanket inside. I couldn’t go outside to play before because I didn’t have a jacket. My mum wouldn’t let me because it was too cold and she thought I would get sick. But, then I got my coat and now I can play outside all the time! I play hide and seek, I hide behind the caravan, over there, or sometimes inside, or behind my aunt’s caravan.”
Ahed giggles while Shahed speaks, but then he agrees with her. “Yeah, it is true, since we got our coats we play more,” says Ahed. “I love football but sometimes we play together, and she might even win.”
The majority of the funding for the coats, which were procured locally in Jordan, was provided to World Vision by Canada and the United Kingdom. The distributions took place in December 2013.
“It is really good to see how your work actually makes things better for children,” said Abed Rabbo Abu Ghalyoun, World Vision’s Non-Food Item & Food Coordinator for the Syria Crisis Response in Jordan, after meeting Shahed and Ahed.
Shahed and Ahed have many obstacles to face as they continue to hold onto their childhood in the midst of conflict, displacement and uncertainty. But they carry on dreaming, playing and learning, and for Shahed, at least, a simple coat may have made a significant contribution to all three.
“I go to school, and I wear my coat to school because I love it so much. It makes me want to go to school more,” says Shahed.
“But I really want to go back to Syria, so I’ll take my coat there too, one day; because I want to see my home.”