Faten, a 54-year-old woman from besieged Eastern Ghouta in the Damascus suburbs, was detained for two months for simply seeking information about her disappeared son, who was taken by the security forces in April 2013, as any grieving mother instinctively would when their child is missing.
Upon her release, Faten went back to Ghouta to officially launch her relief project, One Hand Association, in early 2014. Faten said: " ‘One Hand’ means for everyone, for all religions.” Starting as a simple kitchen to provide food to those in need, Faten and her team were able to collect in-kind donations from shop owners in Douma and distribute meals using her own car to people struggling to feed their families due to the siege and ongoing violence. In addition to her, the kitchen team includes five other members (the cook, his assistants and those responsible for packing) and is attended by over 250 people during meal times.
The team quickly realized that they had to expand their activities to meet other needs on-the-ground. The scope of their expanded work included a training center where English language, literacy, and some handcrafting training were taking place; a hall in Haresta used for meetings, conferences, and other activities; and restoring some schools in Haresta, which were also used to provide psycho-social support for students there. Unfortunately, the schools have now been destroyed, the center has suspended its activities indefinitely, and the hall is currently used as a shelter to protect civilians from the relentless bombardment of the latest brutal attack on the area.
As of today, One Hand continues to run the public kitchen, as well as to look after over 300 orphans. This important work is only possible due to the small-scale support of a few organizations and individual donations. Faten describes the current situation in Ghouta as an "extermination phase". The level and frequency of atrocities has gone beyond madness. "We're targeted like we're invaluable. [...] What is happening in Ghouta can only be categorized as a collective death. The situation has been so brutal that when people witness a whole family being killed by airstrikes, they would say: ‘it’s maybe more merciful for them to die together so they don’t leave broken hearts behind’”. In one case, a 9-year-old was the sole survivor of an entire family who were tragically killed in the ferocious and indiscriminate bombing that has reduced whole neighborhoods to rubble.
Sadly, this story is not unusual in Ghouta. In the midst of such violence and suffering, Faten wonders if Human Rights defenders (and especially children rights defenders) are watching the unfolding genocide from a far and questioning their role and responsibility to support the children in Ghouta, who “are literally rotting in underground shelters, looking like zombies and suffering panic attacks". 300 families in Madyara have taken shelter from intense bombing. “People are scared... They don’t go out unless there is an emergency” said Faten.
The shelters are overcrowded and lacking basic services, including hygiene baskets. Clean water is only provided by the local council once every 4-5 days due to high cost of transportation and lack of fuel. The policy adopted by civil society prioritizes ‘the poorest,’ but today this encompasses nearly everyone in Eastern Ghouta. “It is really difficult to reach all citizens or cover their needs. There's a lack in support offered to local councils, and the situation is horrific, no one can possibly tolerate such living conditions" said Faten. Given the absence of support from the rebels, grassroots civil society organisations have taken on the burden of attending people’s needs.
But they are critically under-resourced in the face of such a catastrophic humanitarian situation. Faten emphasizes that none of Ghouta’s residents have chosen the war, adding that “we want to live, whether they like it or not.
We will live despite the minimum resources available.” Today, the need for One Hand’s services is greater than ever. This is a matter of innocent people living or dying. “Each meal attends to 250 people and costs 1500$ (not including the workers’ slaries). Being a community-based collective that depends upon the kindness of people and individual donations, One Hand would not be able to carry on without your help today.
We encourage you to read more about the situation in Eastern Ghouta and act to support the people and children who are the main victims of a war they have nothing to do with. While One Hand is keen to maintain a high level of transparency by keeping the public informed about its work through its FB page, its code of conduct highly values its beneficiaries’ dignity and privacy and therefore refrain from publishing their photos. We hope for your understanding on this issue. The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated: “We get the bread from Mesraba, but because of the airstrikes, we have not had bread for 3 days now. Rumors say that the bakery will get back on service tomorrow, but you never know.” Please help One Hand save lives today.
Sincerely one hand's team