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Voices from Syria: Families reflect on the devastating earthquakes

Voices from Syria: Families reflect on the devastating earthquakes
Story7 February 2024

One year on from the earthquakes that devastated Syria and Türkiye last year, many families continue to live in fabric tents that do not protect them from the cold, and leak heavily when it rains.  

Jindires, in the northwest of Syria, was one of the worst affected areas in the country with sixty percent of its buildings destroyed. Families who had already lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods throughout the conflict were once again forced to rebuild their lives.  

In Syria we responded through partners on the ground with the generous support of those who donated to the DEC’s Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal, which has raised over £150 million to date. Our in-country partner, Syria Relief, has been providing humanitarian assistance in the form of cash vouchers, so that individuals can have the freedom to purchase the essentials they need the most, such as medicine and heaters.  

Ramya: “We are afraid to return to stone buildings.”

Woman in front of tent
Ramya* stands in front of her tent. She is trying to secure its edges for fear of a storm that will cause rainwater to leak inside. Photo: Ali Haj Suleiman/DEC/Fairpicture

Ramya is the mother of a two-year-old and lives with her siblings and their children in Waddah camp. Ramya and her family were displaced due to bombing, and moved many times before arriving in Jindires. 

When the earthquake began, Ramya and her family rushed out into the street. “It was night time and everyone was afraid,” she said. “It was very cold and the rain was pouring heavily. We remained standing under the building, shivering.” 

In the morning, the family saw the building had sustained some damage, but as the children were shivering in the cold they decided to go back inside. That’s when the second shock occurred.  

As the walls began to fall, the family became trapped in a corner of the room near the fireplace. Due to the extent of the damage, the fire escaped the hearth and began to spread towards them. 

“At that moment, the wall on which we were leaning collapsed, and I saw the roof of the neighboring building near us,” she said. “I helped my sister, my nephews, and my son to get to it, and I jumped as well.” 

While Ramya and her family escaped that building, sadly, her sister and nephews in the building next door lost their lives. 

We were homeless, without belongings, without money, and with very terrified young children. I returned to the building site with my child and sat on the edge of the road. There were many people like me, who had lost everything they had and did not know where to go.


Ramya suffered burns on her legs and shoulders, and other members of her family had to undergo surgery.  

While her brother has since moved to a house in another town, Ramya and her child are afraid to live indoors again in case of another earthquake. The tent is not well-insulated, and the family has experienced flooding when it rains. 

“Although the tent we are staying in does not provide a comfortable life, we are afraid of returning to the stone buildings,” she says. 

Before the earthquake, Ramya had been using a room in her house to sew clothing. No longer able to work, the family took on debt to pay their medical bills. 

“I was using a room in the house to work and sew. We lost all of that,” she said. 

The distribution of cash vouchers is important to women like Ramya, as it allows them to make the best choices for their families. For now, she is using the assistance to receive medical treatment. Soon, she hopes to purchase a heater to make their tent more habitable.  

Tawfiq: “Money you can have again, but not a person.”

Man makes a fire
Tawfiq* is forced to make a fire to cook his food. He uses cardboard, dry sticks, and nylon bags to start the fire, which he makes sure it is far from his tent. Photo: Ali Haj Suleiman/DEC/Fairpicture

Before the earthquake, Tawfiq, his wife, and their ten children had already lost their home and livelihood due to the conflict. 

“I spent over twenty years working in the coastal region as a farmer, then returned to the village, owned a poultry farm, planted trees, and dug a well, and things were good until the start of the war,” he said.  

When they left their home to escape bombing, they took nothing with them. The family was trying to start over again in Jindires when the earthquake hit. While Tawfiq and his children escaped, his wife did not survive. 

“The earthquake was very strong and the building we were in collapsed. When I went out and saw my wife, I fainted. I thought all my family members had died,” he said.  

“It was terrible. I could see the body parts of people around me and people who had lost all their family members. I did not want to see the bodies but they were everywhere and I was very sad.” 

Tawfiq and his children eventually received tents to shelter in, but they offer little protection from the strong rains and wind.  

“This tent is not fit for residence,” he said. “I am an old man and I can’t move, I have to bend, it causes a lot of pain to me.” 

At 66, Tawfiq requires surgery that he cannot get because bending over in the tent would risk re-opening the stitches. He struggles in the mud to walk the long distances to the bathrooms in order to shower.  

“The doctor told me I needed to get better nutrition to maintain my health, but there is no money for that,” he said. 

Tawfiq’s younger children have stopped going to school, and instead try to earn a small amount of money by searching through waste for materials to sell, or going to the fields to collect fruit.  

“The children do not feel that the condition is bad, they think their life is normal,” he said.  “There are children born during the years of the revolution, and this is the normal life they know. But parents feel that their children lack education and live in poverty. The child does not realize this, but his family feels bad for him.” 

With the cash voucher he has received, Tawfiq can put a small amount towards the debt he took out from the shop to buy food for his family. While he has experienced profound hardship, Tawfiq is grateful because his children have survived. 

“For me, my children are the most precious, and nothing compares to them,” he said. "Money you can have again, but not a person.” 

There are children born during the years of the revolution, and this is the normal life they know. But parents feel that their children lack education and live in poverty. The child does not realize this, but his family feels bad for him.


Jaafar: “You are in your home, and then suddenly find yourself underground.”

Man cuts tree branches
Jaafar* cuts tree branches to use as fuel for the fireplace inside his tent, where he stays after losing his house as a result of the February 6 earthquake. Photo: Ali Haj Suleiman/DEC/Fairpicture

When the earthquake struck, the building next door to Jaafar’s fell on the side of his single-floor house, burying him, his wife, and his three children in rubble. 

“We remained stuck under the rubble for half an hour until rescue teams came,” he said. “We couldn't believe we had survived when we went out into the street. The scene was terrible. The four-story building near our house was reduced to rubble.” 

“It was a harsh experience that one cannot imagine and everything happened in the blink of an eye. You are in your home, and then suddenly find yourself underground.” 

Jaafar’s family lost all of their belongings. They stayed with his parents-in-law before relocating to a camp. His wife and children, along with his stepmother and sister, now live in two tents.  

Jaafar began working in an olive oil mill to pay off the debts he incurred after the earthquake. 

“Thank God I started working and we got support from the camp,” he said. “What we got first were mattresses and blankets and that was what we needed most, then we got emergency aid like kitchen utensils. We later received more furniture and a food basket.” 

For now, the family is grateful for what they have, but the trauma of the earthquake still follows them.  

“Despite the hardships of life in the camp, we do not prefer to return to living under stone roofs, because we are still suffering from the shock and fear that we experienced during the earthquake,” he explained. “My daughter no longer wants to go to school, because she is afraid to stay under its roof.” 

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