Umm Firas, 39, is also the sole income earner for her family after her husband was half paralyzed in an airstrike on their house more than a year ago. Umm Firas earns money to support her family, including her nine children, by renovating people’s tents in the camp and mending their mattresses and sheets. Now she has to balance her family’s need for an income against the risks of going out to work.
“I stopped going out of my tent to protect myself and my family,” she says. “But sometimes I am obliged to go and look for work. I am always scared I’ll catch the virus and spread it to my children, but what else can I do?”
Three of Umm Firas’s daughters used to go to school. Schools across northwestern Syria took measures to reduce the risks of transmission, including the requirement for students to wear face masks. These can be bought from local pharmacies for one Turkish lira—a price that many parents here cannot afford. So then they are forced to stop sending their children to school. Some teachers have tried to find alternative solutions, such as allowing students to use old pieces of cloth to cover their faces.
“The teacher used to ask my daughters to put masks on, but what do you expect them to say?” says Umm Firas. “I have never bought a mask—I can barely buy bread. When I have the choice, I always go for bread.”
Forty-year-old Umm Ahmed is also finding it difficult to cope. Originally from Qalaat Al-Madiq, in Hama province, Umm Ahmed fled her home with her husband and seven children in 2012 and found refuge in Qah, in Idlib province. In 2014, they moved from Qah to Deir Hassan, where they have lived since. The family lives in a one-room tent.
Umm Ahmed’s husband is bedridden and cannot work. She works as a hygiene assistant in one of the hospitals in Ad-Dana district, in northwestern Syria, but was forced to stop when she experienced kidney failure a few months ago.
The camp where Umm Ahmed lives hosts around 50 families who all share a single water tank and three toilet blocks. “It’s impossible to wash your hands regularly in the camp without putting yourself at risk,” she says.
As the economic situation for Umm Ahmed’s family worsens, she is finding it increasingly difficult to afford soap and detergents to protect herself and her family from COVID-19. MSF teams recently provided Umm Ahmed and other families with a hygiene kits containing soap, detergents, and buckets.