Zakat Foundation of America (ZF) General Counsel and Chief Operations Officer, Safaa Zarzour, visited Syria in August to evaluate ongoing programs and observe first-hand the severity of the conflict and the resulting humanitarian crisis. Mr. Zarzour visited Reef Idlib and Reef Hama, two provinces that span one third of the country, from the border of Turkey to the city of Hama. During his three-week trip, he visited towns and refugee camps in the heart of the conflict to assess the needs of the Syrian people.
Mr. Zarzour came away with a powerful impression of the Syrian people. He gave as an example a 60-year-old woman he met.
“She said to me, ‘The other day, we were attacked with bombs, but thank God they did not hit us.’ She pointed to a tree 30 yards away, where the bomb had fallen. As I listened to her tell me about the artillery bombardment in her neighborhood, I could not believe the remarkable adjustments she has made to her life. In that moment, it really hit me that the Syrian people are not going to leave their homes and they are not going to live in fear. Their attitude is about coping and normalizing things as much as possible.”
Mr. Zarzour was amazed at the cooperation and determination of the Syrian people.
The Syrian people, he said, have created a system to distribute bread throughout the population. Since the conflict started, bakeries have been subjected to heavy bombing by fighter jets, making it unsafe for people to obtain even the most basic part of their meal.
But Mr. Zarzour explained that, “Several trucks leave early in the morning and deliver local bread to the people. In every neighborhood, there is one person designated to distribute. People knock at his door and get their allotment of bread.”
But the cooperation goes far deeper than the distribution of food. Mr. Zarzour recounted a story of a man he was introduced to who had come back from the front lines to visit his family.
“Near us,” Mr. Zarzour recalled, “there were two babies. One belonged to this man. As we were talking, he picked up his child, and then the other child. He looked at me and said, ‘this is not my child, but I do not want her to feel left out. Her father was martyred nine months ago and she has been living with us since then.’”
This small interaction between a father and the child his family had taken in highlighted the way Syrian people take care of one another.
“You would think that anyone under those conditions would give up, but they do not,” Mr. Zarzour explained. “For a place with no services and no authority, it is remarkably safe and peaceful. People understand that their survival matters and get along to make sure their lives are okay and that they have their necessities.”
But despite the strong spirit of cooperation, living conditions within Syria remain highly unstable for Syrian families. According to Mr. Zarzour, the Syrian government has implemented a “scorched earth” policy, meaning that any cities outside the control of the Syrian government are bombed aggressively by fighter jets over heavily populated civilian areas.
“You do not have to know the policy to witness it on the ground,” Mr. Zarzour said. People have fled the cities and moved to temporary refugee camps or hiding places such as caves for safety. However conditions in these areas are nearly unbearable because resources are stretched incredibly thin.
In his visit to Golan refugee camp, Mr. Zarzour saw 800 to 1000 people sharing four bathrooms, two kitchens, and two showers. The scorching heat also made it impossible for families to stay in their tents, which heat up during the day.
In another town, Mr. Zarzour found people taking refuge in caves on abandoned farmland, but they had no way to meet their most basic needs. “They do not have anything, not even water. They wait for someone to bring them food on a regular basis,” Mr. Zarzour said.
Mr. Zarzour explained that the most pressing needs for the Syrian people are bread, water, energy, safety and medicine.
“Because of a lack of medicine,” he said, “kids are dying from diseases that never used to be fatal. Treatable conditions like diabetes and heart issues are worsening because they do not have access to the medicines that would stabilize them.”
Mr. Zarzour’s trip to Syria strengthened ZF’s commitment to provide humanitarian aid within the country. A large majority of people who remain in Syria are suffering significant hardships. While hundreds of organizations have focused their work on helping refugees in bordering countries, there is a substantial gap of services for those who remain inside Syria. ZF is dedicated to filling this service gap in the coming months by focusing on food, water and energy security, medical aid and long-term development projects.
ZF will also strive to provide educational opportunities for Syrian children and fulfill the needs of individual communities.
While the local people in Syria work together to survive the ongoing conflict, Mr. Zarzour encourages donors like you to help ZF create a united effort to support the needs of the Syrian community.
“ZF provides many different kinds of aid. Pick the one that is closest to your heart, which you believe is a priority among priorities, and support us. Support the Syrian people.”