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CARE: Mothers in Syria Face Impossible Choices

Abdullah Hammam/Syria Resilience Consortium

“I hope that my children can go back to school and live the life they deserve.”

Two months before the Syrian war started in 2011, Mariam’s* husband had a heart attack and died. She was pregnant at the time and gave birth soon after, just as the fighting began.

“He is turning eight now, like the war,” Mariam says.

Mariam was all by herself, struggling to survive and make ends meet now as a mother of four children. She found work on a farm and became the sole caregiver and breadwinner in her family. She earns the equivalent of 20 U.S. cents per day — barely enough for her and her children to survive. CARE’s support for widows, as part of the Syria Resilience Consortium, helped her to make a new start.

Mariam recalls how difficult it was for her to work only a few months after she gave birth to Mahmoud. “I started taking Mahmoud with me to the field when he was only a few weeks old. He used to cry so much, and I was scared that the owner of the farm would fire me.” She had to take her oldest daughter out of school so she could take care of her baby brother while Mariam worked. “It was so hard for me, but I did not have a choice.”

Mariam lived under the constant fear that she would lose her family’s source of income. “I would wrap him in a piece of fabric and leave him with my daughter. When he cried, I would quickly breastfeed him. I prayed that the owner of the farm would not see me.”

She had to take her two older children out of school to help look after the younger ones.

“How else would we have survived? I can endure hunger, but my children can’t,” she says.

Mariam’s oldest daughter now works with her on a farm to help provide for the family.

“It makes me very sad. My older son can’t even read or write. If he sees a sign on the road, he has to ask his sister to read it for him,” she says. “Every person should have a happy childhood. It matters for our future. And I feel so sad that I am unable to give this to my children.”

CARE’s support for widows, as part of the Syria Resilience Consortium, helped her to make a new start. “When we received the sheep, my children and I were very happy. We had nothing at all. This meant so much to us. One of the sheep was even pregnant,” she says.

Mariam does not have to go and buy milk anymore. The sheep give enough milk for her and her children. In the spring, Mariam plans to shear the sheep and make pillows and mattresses to earn some extra money.

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