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'The future will be bright, not like this'

This is what cash assistance means to a Syrian family living in abject poverty.

Tuesday January 19, 2016

Sabeen with her two youngest children. Sabeen and her family fled Syria two years ago after their hometown came under attack. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Anita Dullard

Emir and Sabeen never thought their four young children would grow up in a barn that once housed chickens and sheep. The lingering smell, dampness, and insects make it uncomfortable to say the least.

But they have little choice. When they fled Syria for Jordan over two years ago they left with nothing, not even their passports.

In Syria they were living comfortably on a school teacher's income. As refugees in Jordan, they struggle to keep even this roof over their heads. Emir teaches his landlord's three children for a small weekly fee of 15 Jordanian dinar (30 Australian dollars), while Sabeen is sometimes able to earn five dinar a week making and selling Syrian food. This barely covers their rented barn, let alone groceries, water, electricity and medical fees.

They can't afford to change their eight-month-old's nappies more than twice a day.

"Now he has rashes. We feed him biscuits with water, he is sick. We took him yesterday to the doctor, he said he has problem and we need to give him healthy food…the doctor told me that he doesn't have teeth because of the lack of calcium in his body," Sabeen says.

"Our older daughters sometimes feel like they are missing something. They go to school with five or 10 cents, they can't buy even a chocolate with that money. They ask me why should we suffer? Why do we live in this situation? They don't have winter clothes or a winter jacket."

But cash assistance from Red Cross is offering a glimmer of hope to many families living this way.

Distributed by Jordan Red Crescent and partly funded by Australian donors, the cash assistance helps the poorest Syrian families to meet their everyday needs.

"We are so happy to get help from Red Cross, the volunteers and staff are so kind and we thank God that we get assistance. Once we got the message that we were to receive the cash, our daughters were dancing," says Emir.

The family will receive 180 dinar each month ($85 Australian dollars per week), plus a 438 dinar emergency winter allowance to purchase a heater.

While the cash assistance is a welcome relief, Emir and Sabeen know that the impact of their family's ordeal runs deep.

Their five-year-old daughter Mala bears the psychological scars of seeing her father injured and their neighbours killed during an attack on their hometown of Damascus.

"She saw dead bodies in the street. There was a huge attack in our town; many people were in the streets with cut hands and heads. When she draws, she draws dead people that the army attacked. She refuses to talk to people, she refuses to go to school," says Sabeen.

Emir sustained injuries to his spine in the attack, and needs ongoing treatment. Until recently a Jordanian family helped to pay for his treatment, but they are no longer able to support them. His medicine alone is 40 dinar per week. It's yet another cost that makes providing the basics extremely difficult.

But where there is kindness, there is hope.

"We love Jordan; Jordanian people they are so kind. Even poor Jordanian people are feeling sorry for our situation and helping," says Sabeen.

"We are trying to give our children hope, that the future will be bright not like this," adds Emir.

More than 16 million Syrians urgently need humanitarian aid. Of these, 4.2 million Syrians have fled the country, mostly to neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.

Can you help families live in safety? Please make a tax-deductible donation to the Syria Crisis Appeal.

All names have been changed for privacy purposes.