Conquering the cold

Last week Kate took bloggers Rosie and Tanya out to Jordan to meet just a few of the 230,000 Syrian refugees living there who are in need of help to get through the winter. World Vision UK is asking supporters to go without their coats on 10 February to raise money for Syrian refugee children.

Although only the size of Scotland, it still took us two hours in the van to get to our first visit of the trip, a catch up school located in Irbid, a city to the north. The relatively small country of Jordan hosts 635,000 Syrian refugees, as well as another 50,000 Iraqis and countless millions of Palestinians. Roughly one in five people in Jordan is a refugee.

At the school we met 12-year-old Abdullah, one of the many Syrian refugee children taking part in our remedial English, Arabic and Maths lessons, even during the school holidays. Abdullah took us home to talk to his mum and see how the vast majorities of refugees who reside outside the camps live.

His family was in one of those cool, concrete walled, basement flats, a perfect home for warm climates, but this wasn’t a place that had regular 30C degree days that you need cool floors and restricted windows to shelter from. The apartment was bare – the kind of place that an adherent of Marie Kondo would be proud of. But the decluttering wasn’t by choice, and I’m none too sure that the items that remained brought the family joy. Mold was visible on the walls, and windows were small but drafty at the same time. Abdullah and his five siblings were the only joy in the flat, but they were fleeting, reluctant to be trapped in the dingy apartment, and frequently running outside despite having only plastic sandals to play in.

“It gets really cold here and there's mold in the building.” Abdullah’s mum, Antisar told us tiredly. The flat comprised three small rooms and a kitchen to house the family of seven, as well as a grandfather and brother-in-law. There’s no heater in sight from where we sit, but in one corner the dingy carpet has been peeled back to reveal cardboard padded underneath for extra insulation.

With another family, in another town the next day, the story was much the same. “It’s very cold here, pretty harsh here. In Syria it used to be colder. But we had our own house there.” Rasheed, the father told us. The family has never been particularly well off – Rasheed was a truck driver before the war - and in Syria their diesel heater was old and didn't work very well. But here, where things like fruit and repeat prescriptions have become unaffordable luxuries, the family must buy expensive gas cylinders for their heating.

At the next house we went to, it was another cold windowless room with mats on the floor. In this one, however, the heat had been turned on for our benefit and children cuddled up to it. Kawther and her children are one of the lucky families that World Vision has been able to provide heating for this winter.

It never snowed while we were there, but the flurries came this Monday in Amman, and proper sheets of snow fell in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. One of my colleagues there camped out in the snow with the many refugees living in tents and makeshift shelters, and quickly discovered just how cold and exposed the families are.

What we saw in the flats when we were there last week was all those families had – there are no shoe closets full of boots in those drafty and damp concrete apartments, or winter coats lurking in the back of the wardrobes. The open toed rubber sandals are all they had for snow, and for summer.

Living in the cold and damp quickly takes a toll on their health, and for most of these families it has already been four, five years. Kawther told us how her children’s asthma has all become aggravated since they’ve been in Jordan, but they can’t afford the medicines they need and only sparingly use their inhaler. Moving to a warmer, drier flat was never even mooted as a possibility, probably because to these families it’s as much a pipe dream as that long awaited call from UNHCR finally coming for resettlement.

Just £14 can buy a coat for a Syrian child to keep them warm this winter - click here to find out more about the campaign. You can find out more about the campaign on social media by following #BarefootCoatless on Twitter and Instagram, and by reading Rosie and Tanya’s stories from the trip.

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