Fatime thought she understood terror the first time she heard the bombs drop on the other side of the city. But day by day, the bombing edged closer and closer to her home in Hassake, Syria. Then, she says, "It was next to us." Explosions were rattling her doors, and everything she had ever known had been reduced to rubble. The 75-year-old widow and her two daughters knew their only two choices left were to flee or die.
Driven by fear rather than hope, Fatime, Mirim and Safiya joined thousands of people fleeing Syria's civil war and set out on a brutal 430-mile journey to Lebanon. They felt enormous relief when they arrived at the refugee camp, known as Camp 009 Tamnine al tahta, but this feeling was fleeting. It didn't take long to realize how harsh their new life was going to be.
Alive but not well in harsh refugee camp conditions
Fatime and her daughters are surrounded by sickness and death at the camp, and they have little more than a tent for shelter. In summer, rains soak through their tattered canvas roof and turn the red clay outside their tent into a deep mud. In winter, freezing winds and snow whip through the cracks between the old vinyl billboards they use for walls, as the three women huddle together in a shivering sleep.
Indeed, winter is hardest for refugees like Fatime and her daughters, but it's especially brutal for families with young children and newborns. Sadly, nearly half of all refugees are children and infants, and Camp 009 is full of them. There is no heat in these makeshift tents, and food is scarce. Winter is a time of hunger and mourning.
Too sick to work, too poor to buy medicine
Fatime and Safiya have been beset by health issues since the war began, and they've grown worse since arriving at the refugee camp. Mirim is the only member of their household healthy enough to work. She toils as a farm laborer from sunup to sundown — but since her work is only seasonal, she can't even earn enough to pay the rent for the concrete slab they live on, much less to buy all the medicines her mother and her sister Safiya need to survive. Fatime often goes without critical medications she needs, either because they're too costly or not available.
"We feel neglected," says Safiya. "All we want is God's blessing for everyone and for everyone to be good and well."