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Debt and darkness at the top of the stairs

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A woman sits indoors

In a dark room at the top of three flights of crumbling, water-logged stairs, Ameena sits with her two severely disabled sons.

Jalal is listless, lying under a blanket with his thin feet poking out the bottom.  He is 17, but rake-thin and looks more like a small child. He is sick and hasn’t eaten for three days. Hasan, nine, is next to him.

Syria’s conflict has shattered their lives. Ameena thinks back to better times. “In Damascus we had a fruit shop and our own house. The health facilities were good and these boys got physiotherapy, they saw doctors and were given medicine.”

Then the fighting came.

Bombing and shelling

Ameena says: “Our house was destroyed and we had to leave because of the children. They were terrified of the bombing and shelling, they still are. And they have problems like wetting the bed.”

So for the last 20 months, the family’s home has been a few rooms at the top of an unfinished building in the northern tip of Lebanon.

Ameena has five children in all, with another one on the way. Providing for them is hard. There are few chances to earn money here.

Her husband can only find work about one day in every ten. He has asthma and diabetes, but struggles to find the money to pay for medicine.

Ameena adds: “The problem is we need nappies for the boys, and medicine, but no one has helped. Usually I buy nappies for them, but now I am in debt to the local shops who have given us credit.

“A neighbour is helping us, getting nappies from shops further away in another area, but the debt is getting very high.”

The family is also getting some food vouchers and other aid from a mix of organisations.  Ameena says: “We get cash from the Red Cross. They gave us the most help, and quickly. They give us food parcels and diesel and they provided us with this heater.

“We have to pay the rent with the money, and if we don’t we could lose this place.”

Cut off

Ameena’s brothers, mother and the rest of her family are still in Syria. She hasn’t been able to speak to them for more than eight months – hasn’t seen them in a year and a half.

At just 37 Ameena looks broken. She stares out of the window, in the direction of her old home in Syria. She doesn’t expect to ever go back there.

With tears falling down her cheeks she says: “Everything is difficult. Everything is difficult.”

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