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Five years of War - Beyond fear and hope in Syria

The cease fire here in Syria is a lifeline for so many clinging to hope.

Thursday March 17, 2016

Sarah Davies is a Water and Sanitation aid worker who has been working in Syria with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Every day, I see people living in fear. Fear for their lives, of an uncertain future and with a deep sadness for the life they knew and have lost. Welcome to Syria.

Death and misery stares so many in the face here that it is commonplace. My Syrian friends and colleagues say that five years ago, when someone close to them was killed or injured it was shocking. Now, when friends lose family members it seems somehow "normal".

One close friend told me of the tragedy of feeling this way. How it makes him feel less human and adds to his struggles to cope with an ever deepening depression.

Equally hard for me to fully comprehend, the joy of a colleague today. Her brother is alive. He had disappeared three years ago, presumed dead. This woman does not have much but she gave me a bracelet made by her young daughter. The gift typifies the warmth and generosity displayed to me by so many Syrians around the country in my time here. Despite their own hardships.

The last winter was bitter, when I see the way some families live it's hard to understand how they survive. Nine million people are on the move inside this country, trying to find safety without being forced to take a perilous journey beyond the borders. It is cold, hard and cruel beyond belief.

Recently we visited one family in a partly built bleak concrete apartment block. This family has barely made it through winter after fleeing four times to avoid danger. The mother, father and three children huddled around a small gas burner to cope with sub-zero temperatures. We ask about some modest improvements we made for them to doors and windows to protect from the elements and connecting running water and lights.

The mother tells us that "everything is fine, thankyou." She adds "everything would be perfect if we could just return to our home in Aleppo." Everyone I meet wishes simply to go home.

A Red Cross colleague is thankful he's alive. His hometown Deir Ezzor is under siege. But he's counting his fortunes that he's in safety now. He has food to eat and a job helping his country to stay afloat. Before the war, he used all his savings to buy an apartment. It does not exist anymore; destroyed along with the family home and his dreams.

Recently, I watched another colleague leave Syria, forced to find a safer home for his children. The week before he fled, 13 of his friends were killed. His mother had been shot in the leg by a stray bullet. Their family home was looted. Despite the daily threats to their life, his parents could not leave their home town.

Families are torn apart. This is Syria today. All Syrians that I know want a different tomorrow.   My job has been to restore water supplies and help bring critical services to millions. Five years into the conflict, life gets tougher each day for those who remain. Fuel, food, water, and healthcare become ever more expensive across the country. People are struggling with high inflation and growing unemployment. Only half the country's water services are turned on. Power supplies are crippled.

As humanitarian workers here, we provide critical support but we cannot halt the inevitable decline while the conflict continues. My fears are that life will become much more difficult for Syrians before it can even begin to improve.

I have the luxury of returning to my safe home in Australia. My greatest wish for my friends, colleagues and for all Syrians is that they will soon be able to rediscover their home. Until then, they need our support to live beyond fear and hope.

Sarah Davies is a Water and Sanitation aid worker who has been working in Syria with the International Committee of the Red Cross for the past 18 months.

You can find out more about our work in Syria in the region or donate to the Syria Crisis Appeal.

This article first appeared in the Melbourne Herald Sun.