Inside the communal shelter, women are drinking their morning coffee, children are making toys, others are sitting on the ground watching TV. Everything appears calm, but many of the people here have lost family members, feel fearful and anxious, and some have witnessed violence.
The centre, in the Rural Damascus area of al-Madrasa-al-Muhdatha, shelters 60 families, a total of 375 men, women and children, all living together. Most of the families here have fled from other areas of Rural Damascus. They share most things and tell their stories. Many of the men have left to search for a job. Red Crescent and Red Cross teams offer psychosocial support to the people in this shelter.
At the beginning of our visit, we meet a group of children, aged between 4 and 13, in the middle of a psychosocial support activity. They are making boats from plastic plates. One of the children, Mahmoud, looks straight at me and my camera.
“I want to take this lady to my house and let her see how it has been destroyed,” he replies when asked where he wants to sail with the boat he has just made.
Among the mothers, some have lost their husbands, some their children. Others have witnessed violence.
“These mothers have a sense of emptiness. Suddenly, they find themselves with nothing. They feel isolated, anxious and fearful. They are worried about their children and about the future,” says Waseem, leader of the psychosocial support team.
“We have noticed significant improvements and good results through our psychosocial support activities at this centre. At the beginning, they refused to talk to us, but now they wait for our visit. During these activities, they forget their problems and feel some harmony together.”
Music can put a smile on a child’s face
To our surprise, there is also an orchestra of young girls, aged between 13 and 18, led by a Red Crescent volunteer who is singing with enthusiasm.
Samer joined the Red Crescent as volunteer five years ago. He left everything behind and is now leading this orchestra inside the shelter. He is playing the lute and the children are gathered around him singing happily.
“I dedicated myself to humanitarian work. Music seems to be the best way to help these children cope with the problems they experience each and every day,” says Samer.
Reem, 13, is one of the girls in the orchestra. She had to flee the family home in a suburb of Damascus with her parents and seven siblings eight months ago. Despite all the hardship, she has faced, she seems happy. “I want to stay here in this shelter. I am happy here with my friends. We have something new to learn or practice every day,” Reem says.
“I am living the moment and do not want to think about the future. Most of us here are from the same area. Back there, we had no relationships with each other. The circumstances gathered all of us here and now we have strong friendships.”
Paradoxes do exist and no two children are alike: just as Mahmoud was thinking about his ruined house, Reem has found some comfort in the relationships she has formed in the shelter.