In 2012, surrounded by violence and conflict, 49-year-old Hoda Hassan Abou Khamis was forced to flee her home in Yarmouk, Syria, with her husband and their three sons. They found alternative accommodation at the Haifa collective shelter managed by UNRWA in Damascus. Since then, Hoda’s eldest son has left for Germany, while her middle child is studying French literature and living with his aunt. The youngest, 15-year-old Mahmoud, lives with her at the collective shelter.
Today, Hoda, or Oum Abed as she likes to be called, is a volunteer at the shelter’s Women’s Programme Centre run by the community-based organizations supported by UNRWA. She explains, “Working with the women at the shelter brings a lot of joy, gives a sense of hope and is a means for releasing the negative stress I have accumulated because of the war.”
The mother of three reminisces about her life in Yarmouk: “We used to live in a 45 sq m house. It was small, but it was our own. My husband and I had worked very hard, day and night, to be able to afford a place we could call our little haven… but now we’ve lost it all.”
Hoda reflects on the Eid and Ramadan traditions from years past, before the ongoing conflict in Syria forced them from their home. “During Eid, I used to go to the market, buy groceries, and prepare food and desserts every night. Then we would go to our parents’ houses and share our meal with them. We used to go to the souk where all the shops would have the most beautiful and colourful decorations. Walking down the market, you couldn’t help but smell the tasty desserts and pastries made especially for the holy month.”
This Ramadan, UNRWA, with thanks to a GBP 24,500 (approximately US$ 31,000) contribution from the World Federation, distributed additional food assistance to the residents of collective shelters in Syria, including Hoda’s family. During the holy month, the Agency provided suhour food baskets containing butter, dates, cheese, olives, and powdered juice, as well as meat pies (sfiha) to more than 2,000 internally displaced refugees in the nine collective shelters it runs in Damascus and Rif Damascus.
The World Federation contribution will allow Oum Abed and many other Palestine refugees to save some money and prioritize their expenditures according to the needs of their household. “The money we were planning to spend on suhour meals will be now spent on clothes, medicines, and stationery for my sons,” she explains.
Hoda is among the 418,000 Palestine refugees in Syria who benefit from the cash, food and non-food items emergency assistance distributed by UNRWA: “I am very grateful to the Agency,” she says. “UNRWA has helped us find refuge in the collective shelter, and has been providing us with hot meals and food baskets, in addition to a small cash subsidy.”
She remarks sadly, “Ramadan is the time of year for big family gatherings… The absence of our loved ones means the iftar meal is filled with sorrow and despair. However, although it is hard to spend the fasting month away from our families and our neighbourhood, we adapted to this new life, as we’ve been here for five years now.” She adds, “We remain hopeful that one day, when the situation permits, we will be able to return to Yarmouk.”