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Monday 22 February 2016

Syrian families need shelter
Syrian families need shelter
Sam Hewett, pictured centre, in Iraqi Kurdistan. (Liv Williams/ShelterBox)

Sam Hewett is one of ShelterBox’s operations coordinators and has been personally involved with supporting families affected by the Syrian conflict for more than three years. In that time ShelterBox has sought countless opportunities to ensure a continued pipeline of aid, adapting and evolving our approach as the conflict itself morphs and mutates. A challenge that continues to this day. 
Speaking to Sam in the same week that fighting threatened to encircle the city of Aleppo, he reflects on some of his frustrations and his impatience at the situation in Syria.
‘Before I left for Turkey I was reading a memoir by a war correspondent about his experiences in the Bosnian and Chechen wars. The author described the relentless indiscriminate shelling and bombing as the Russians fought to take the city of Grozny back from the Chechen rebels. The author and his colleagues had benefited from fairly free reign in Bosnia, barring the odd mortar shell, sniper fire or armed gang, but in Grozny they were confined to a cellar and the hope they would not suffer a direct hit. Above, Grozny was being carpet bombed.
As I read, the Syrian regime was launching a major offensive to take territory controlled by opposition forces around Aleppo City in northern Syria. They were backed by Iranian ground forces and Russian airstrikes, and the fighting was forcing tens of thousands to flee north and west.
Reading about it was as close as I would get. Our work to support displaced people in Syria is run remotely. It’s too dangerous for anyone except Syrians to work in the country. Instead, I am coordinating with staff from our partners, who are liaising with their opposite numbers within Syria. Remotely, we are trying to understand the needs of the people in a rapidly changing situation. 
In August I was in Greece, working alongside international and local NGOs and refugees themselves to establish a modicum of shelter for the new arrivals on Lesbos Island. There I was able to speak and listen to the refugees, and hear their stories. We were instantly aware of their needs and could, to an extent, quickly try and alleviate some of their suffering.

We’ve been working to help those displaced by the war since 2012. Refugees, the displaced, migrants, asylum seekers – call them what you will, they are all people like you or I, and most of them are running scared. Responding to their changing needs requires real flexibility. We’ve broken our own rules and bent the organisation out of shape just so that we can support these unfortunate people. Flexibility can save lives.
Back home a lot of people seem at a loss to understand the situation. Drawing a diagram of the different factions and their loyalties doesn’t really help. The Americans are backing the Kurds, who are fighting the regime, which is backed by the Russians. Both the Americans and the Russians are bombing the Islamic State, along with the Turks, but the Turks are also shelling the Kurds, even though USA and Turkey are allies. Then there’s Jabat al Nusra and the Saudis. The drawing becomes an incomprehensible mess.
In the middle of this are 13.5 million people in need. To me, there’s no confusion.’ 
We need your support
We are in race against time to get aid into Syria and to Aleppo itself before supply lines close. We need your support to help us send shelter kits to these families before it is too late. 

We plan to provide families with shelter kits that contain mattresses, tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, solar lights and water carriers. The tough tarpaulin can be used to restore roofs and walls, while clear plastic sheeting can be used to cover broken windows. 

Blankets and mattresses, of which there are five in each kit, not only provide warmth, but can also be used as room dividers to create privacy. Solar lamps bring a source of light to a city without electricity and water carriers will enable people to collect and transport water from safe sources.

All of the items in the kit are easy to carry, flexible and durable. If a family needs to leave their home and find shelter elsewhere, they can easily bring the contents with them and use it over and over again. 

A shelter kit for a whole family costs just £88.74 and contains the essentials people need to survive in such difficult conditions.

Please donate today.
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