Fatima wouldn’t let me take off my sandals to enter her family’s spotlessly tidy home.
This was unusual. Even the homes of the poorest Syrian refugees were generally spotless, and taking off one’s shoes before entering a home was the normal thing to do.
But the 13 year old girl was adamant—she didn’t want me to walk in bare feet in the former chicken coop her family now calls home in Lebanon.
Life in a converted chicken coop in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is just one of the many changes Fatima, her brother Muhammed, 11, and her mother Manha, have experienced since fleeing the conflict in Syria about a year ago. Lack of contact with family members is another.
“We have two older daughters, one in Syria, the other living like us, as a refugee, in Turkey,” Manha told me as Fatima nestled up to her mother.
“I’d love to be able to tell you more, but we haven’t been able to contact them in over two years.”
As for Fatima and Muhammed, a change they feel most keenly is their inability to go to school. It’s not that Lebanese schools wouldn’t welcome them; with over a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, many of them school age kids, there’s simply no room.
Fatima sits up straight when I start asking about what the family’s lives were like back in their home of the suburbs of Aleppo.
“In Syria, we had friends,” she says. “We were happy. We had a garden we used to play in when we weren’t doing our homework.”
Fatima never thought she would begin her teenage years in a chicken coop.
“I miss my friends,” she says. “I miss going to school, and playing football (soccer).”
“Real Madrid’s our favourite team,” pipes up her little brother.
Manha and her husband pay $140 USD a month to live a cobbled-together room within the chicken coop. That price includes the electricity needed for one bright light bulb, but no heating or plumbing. For water, Fatima and Muhammed fill up large jugs of water from a well that’s a short ways away.
The rent might not sound like much, but it’s still a struggle for the family. When they first arrived in Lebanon, they were able to use their savings to pay it. But now their savings are almost gone.
Five months ago, they started receiving assistance from a project supported by Canadian Foodgrains Bank and implemented by its member, World Renew.
The project, which operates out of a nearby church, provides food vouchers to Syrian refugees so they can buy food at a local grocery store.
The vouchers allows the family to use the money they would otherwise be spending for food to pay the rent for their converted chicken coop home.
“Without this help, God knows what would happen to us,” says Manha.
Fatima and Muhammed agree, but add that they miss their life back home.
“We had a normal life in Syria,” says Fatima. ‘We just want to go home.”
Amanda Thorsteinsson, Communications Officer