The holy month of Ramadan is a time for fasting, introspection and getting together with family and friends. But for the millions of Syrians displaced by violence, Ramadan is bittersweet. Many families are separated. Unemployment, poverty and soaring prices make it difficult to buy food for Suhoor and Iftar meals.
For some, a trip to the mosque to pray can be a life-or-death experience. Brothers Watheg, 21, and Harm, 18 (pictured above) will never forget the day during Ramadan in 2011, when Watheg was shot near their mosque in Homs, Syria. They had just finished praying and were on their way out of the mosque when fighting broke out in the streets. Four bullets lodged in Watheg's leg. Dozens of others from his neighborhood were killed or injured that evening.
Once there is peace in Syria, I want to return home and help rebuild.
Today, all that is left of their boyhood home is a wall and a pile of rubble. Watheg carries photos of the ruins on his cellphone. The brothers live in Jordan, where they go to weekly meetings of a UNICEF-sponsored youth drama program that promotes peaceful alternatives to conflict. They look forward to a time when there is no violence in their home, their school or their community. "Once there is peace in Syria," said Watheg, "I want to return home and help rebuild."
In 2016, Basma Ourafli, UNICEF Communication Officer Basma Ourafli wrote this about the precariousness of life in wartorn Aleppo: "Most of the time, we don't know what tomorrow will bring, whether we will make it or not. I recall during Ramadan last year, as we were ready to break our fast, intense shelling started. It was dark, and we were bewildered — not knowing whether to flee or not. The only question running through my mind was: Will we survive the day?"
The only question running through my mind was: Will we survive the day?
Even though they may be far from home and separated from loved ones, displaced Syrians will spend their holy month praying, fasting, reading the Quran, sharing home-cooked meals with family and friends who are nearby and preparing for the day when they can all meet again, to rebuild their lives and their country.
Top photo: In 2016, Syrian refugees Watheg, 21 (left), and his brother Harm, 18, participated in a weekly youth drama group at a UNICEF-backed Makani learning center in Mafraq, Jordan. © UNICEF/UN043094/Rich