It is nine years since the Syrian conflict began. For almost a decade, families have been forced to flee their homes, losing their loved ones and struggling to survive.
To find out what is happening behind the headlines, Rachael Adams spoke to Tim Purver, part of Tearfund’s team based in Syria. Tim explains that, despite the desperate circumstances, he has hope for the future…
The scale of the crisis
Numbers alone paint a devastating picture of the conflict and how far-reaching the impact of the crisis has been:
- 11.7 million people need humanitarian assistance – five million of these are in desperate need, with many of them located in hard to reach areas, or areas that are still in the midst of conflict.
- Around half of the population have fled their homes. 5.9 million people are internally displaced, while 5.1 million people have fled Syria completely – forced to seek refuge in other countries. Syrian refugees now make up 10 per cent of the population in Jordan (half of them children).
- Around 83 per cent of Syrians live below the poverty line – the highest proportion of any country in the world.
‘You only have to travel a very small distance from the outskirts of [capital city] Damascus to see the scale of the devastation,’ says Tim. ‘As far as you can see there is just complete and utter destruction of properties – people’s homes and businesses.’
Time to rebuild
In 2019, Tearfund received its official registration from the Syrian government. This was a significant step forward as it allows us to be able to be more involved in supporting programmes in the country that will help people lift themselves out of poverty.
Our teams in Syria and in the UK have been building crucial relationships with churches in Syria so that the programmes will reach even more people in need.
‘There is huge potential for our partnerships with churches moving forward. There is a desire from them to be involved in supporting people during this conflict, and wanting to live out the call to love your neighbour,’ Tim explains.
Moving forwards, Tearfund is focusing on three programmes to give people back their dignity and empower them as they rebuild their lives: water and hygiene, income support, and trauma counselling.
Living without access to clean water and safe sanitation makes even the simplest tasks more difficult and more deadly. Families often have to travel to collect water. Even then, the water is often dirty and unsafe to drink. This can leave people suffering from diarrhoea and other illnesses that can be deadly for children.
‘We are starting a programme in North East Syria to provide a safe water supply for people who have been internally displaced. Along with this will be hygiene support – this will cover lifesaving measures such as handwashing.
‘Clean water is essential for people to live safely and with dignity,’ says Tim.
Investing in people
The nine-year conflict has taken a devastating toll on the economy. Unemployment in Syria is 75 per cent – more than 60 per cent above the global average. So, as well as helping people to meet their basic needs, it’s vital we invest in opportunities for people to earn their own income and provide for their families. This will give people long-term stability and a sustainable way out of poverty.
‘In Syria, the conflict is ongoing, but our primary focus is on long-term recovery, ensuring that people are able to stand on their own two feet and provide their own income,' explains Tim.
‘Tearfund believes that everyone has an amazing potential for change. So, we invest in people. We want to help people put their dreams into practise.
‘This is especially important because Syria has a very young population. Because of the conflict, many young people feel hopeless. There is a real threat of a lost generation emerging in Syria.
‘Tearfund will be coming alongside these young people, and giving them opportunities to dream again, so they can be at the forefront of rebuilding their country.’
Leaving the nightmares behind
Conflict doesn’t just have an impact on physical health, but mental health too. The emotional impact of living in a country through nine years of conflict cannot be overestimated.
These feelings can’t be resolved overnight. That’s why we are investing in programmes to help people overcome trauma. Without properly processing what’s happened to them, or having a safe space to talk about symptoms they’re experiencing – such as nightmares and flashbacks – it is unlikely people will feel empowered to rebuild their lives.
This is particularly the case for women, as Tim explains. ‘Cultural gender norms often restrict women’s access to education and economic resources. Women are often the worst affected and most vulnerable in times of conflict. Tearfund will be working closely with them to help them overcome the trauma they have faced and to support them moving forwards.’
Join us for a future filled with hope for Syria
‘We are making many steps forward and that’s a cause for celebration,’ says Tim. ‘Pray that we will continue to see progress and remain faithful to where God is calling us to be. And what he’s calling us to do.’
Please continue to partner with us and pray for Syria – for the country, the people and for our work.
Six ways you can pray for Syria
- Peace: pray for an end to the violence in Syria.
- Relationship building: pray for our team in Syria – for the existing relationships they have with local churches and organisations, and for wisdom and opportunities for new relationships too. These relationships are vital to help reach even more people with lifegiving support.
- People returning to their homes: lift up people who have fled to other countries, and those that have been internally displaced. Life is never the same again, so pray for comfort as they come back to face what they have lost. Pray for new opportunities and for support as they rebuild their lives.
- Water and hygiene: pray for the programmes Tearfund is implementing to help people have access to clean water and safe sanitation. Ask that these programmes will reach people in need.
- Employment opportunities: pray for new and sustainable opportunities for people in Syria to earn an income and provide for their families. Pray especially for young people; for there to be no lost generation and that they will have hope for their future.
- Recovery from trauma: lift up everyone who is suffering the after-affects of this long conflict. Pray for God’s healing and comfort to surround them as well as freedom from anxiety and fear. Pray that people will be restored so that they feel empowered and encouraged to follow their dreams.
Everything we do at Tearfund is underpinned by prayer. Sign up to One Voice, our weekly prayer email, to join us praying for people where the need is greatest.