Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Putting Smiles on Orphans' Faces

Organisation hopes to give bereaved children a brighter future.
By Mustafa al-Jalal

A civil society group working in Idlib and the surrounding countryside is helping hundreds of local children who have lost family in the conflict.

The al-Huda charitable organisation was set up in late August 2012 after Kfar Nabel was liberated from the government forces. It distributes funds to each bereaved child and is aiming to establish a community centre where orphans can receive dedicated help.

“The organisation rescued my family,” said Umm Mohammad, a 29-year-old widow and mother-of-three. “Ever since my husband was killed in Kfar Nabel’s liberation battle it has sponsored my three children. In addition to food aid, al-Huda also provides us with a monthly salary”.

Umm Omar, another war widow, added, “May God bless all the those who work at al-Huda for everything they do.

“My son Omar was born after my husband died in a government air strike, so he never knew his father. Al-Huda has managed to put a smile on his face.”

Al-Huda’s secretary general Ahmad Abdel Latif said that when the organisation was established in 2012, it was initially responsible for 150 children. This increased to 500 children the following year, and by 2014 the organisation began to cover Kfar Nabel’s countryside, sponsoring 762 young people. The number is still growing.

“The organisation now covers 42 towns and villages in Idlib’s countryside,” said Abdel Latif. “We offer each orphan we sponsor financial and food aid, and we are working towards increasing the number of our beneficiaries to 1,500 children.”

Abdel Latif added that the ultimate goal of the organisation was to sponsor all orphans in liberated cities, towns, and villages.

Al-Huda director general Ibrahim al-Qassem told Damascus Bureau that the organisation was planning to open a centre where orphans could receive education, entertainment and psychological support.

“We hope to brighten the future of these children who have been surrounded by death, destruction and bombing for the past five years,” Qassem said.

“Our organisation keeps an updated registry of orphans and the dates their parents died. So far we have established seven pre-school centres that provide financial and psychological support to orphans, the children of detainees and other underprivileged children.”

These centres are run by trained female childcare providers in various villages. Locations are chosen based on population density.

Providing local support to other civil society groups in Kfar Nabel and its countryside is another aspect of al-Huda’s work. One such NGO is the al-Baraa Charitable Organisation, located in the village of Hish.

The organisation was established in October 2012 and since then has sponsored 120 orphans from Hish and eight neighbouring villages.

Ali Salum, head of the martyr’s office at al-Baraa, told Damascus Bureau that the organisation was funded by monthly contributions sent by Hish expatriates who live in the Gulf region. Further support also comes from various associations such as al-Huda.

“Our organisation mainly cares for the families of martyrs and provides drinking water to the residents of Hish,” he said. “It has also inaugurated a centre named Abjadiyatuna [Our Alphabet] where the Quran is taught, and has restored the village Civil Registry building”.

A MORALE BOOST FOR ORPHANS

Al-Huda also intends to boost the confidence of children suffering the effects of conflict. At the end of summer 2015, it held its inaugural annual ceremony to honour orphans from Idlib and its countryside.

The aim of the ceremony was simple: to put a smile on the children’s faces, and remind society of the importance of caring for them.

Event supervisor Fuad al-Shuaib told Damascus Bureau that 150 boys and girls of different ages from Kfar Nabel and neighbouring villages were invited to the ceremony. They were selected out of 1,114 orphans registered with the organisation.

“During the ceremony, a group of children presented a play reflecting the difference between their lives before and after receiving sponsorship,” he explained. “Then a number of officials and guests delivered speeches, and distributed gifts and a grant of five thousand Syrian Pounds to each child attending.”

“This event reflects al-Huda’s noble mission and vision,” said Abu Amar, a guest at the event.

“It also sends out a message to society about the necessity of contributing in any way possible to help orphans, the children of detainees or the underprivileged,” he continued, adding, “Seeing an orphan happy and smiling is the most rewarding gift one can ask for.”

Al-Huda’s general coordinator Mohammad al-Qassem told Damascus Bureau the organisation would hold similar ceremonies in the future.

Thanking all donors in Syria and abroad for their patronage, he pledged that future events would focus on easing the suffering of families affected by the war.

“The reactions of the children today were a morale boost to those involved in organising the event,’ said the 42-year-old. “The smile we saw on the faces of the orphans attending was the best honour we could have received.”

Mostafa al-Jalal is the pseudonym of a Damascus Bureau contributor from Kfar Nabel, Syria.