Winter in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley is harsh for lonely and elderly Fatouma

Monday 11 January 2016

63-year-old Fatouma is a mother of 6 boys and 5 girls. Her husband left her 20 years ago in Edleb in Syria where she worked in the fields along with her children. Fatouma was forced to flee Syria with her family more than 4 years ago when the shelling got intensified nearby her house.

“I left Edleb when the conflict started. I took my family and followed my neighbors. The situation was horrible, everyone was frightened,” says Fatouma who lives in an informal settlement in Bekaa Valley in the East of Lebanon.

Fatouma’s children left the settlement when they got married. They barely talk to her now, as per what she says. “Last winter, I had neither carpets, nor blankets. I literally had nothing but God’s mercy. None of my children cared about me, except my daughter Amina,” says Fatouma as tears coursed down her cheeks while she pointed at Amina. “When I heard that there was a heavy storm coming, I tried to look for a job in sewing to make money so I could buy some materials to fix my tent before the storm arrives. But I couldn’t find any”, she confirms.

Fatouma describes the long and cold winter nights she has witnessed over the past four years. “I spent one of the nights terrified. The wind was very strong. I could hear the wood shaking. The heavy snow was fiercely hitting the surface. I was afraid the tent would collapse on me. The roof was leaking to an extent that my clothes got wet. I vainly tried to move to another corner. I spent the night waiting for the sun to rise to dry my clothes”, she says remembering every detail of that night. “On the next day, my neighbors saw my wet clothes and noticed how tired my eyes were. It is with their help that I managed to maintain my tent” she adds as she praises her neighbors.

As Fatouma was eating from the food that her neighbors brought to her, while generously offering her visitors despite the scarcity, she continued telling her story. “Last winter I didn’t stop shivering. My fingers and my lips turned blue and I had to sleep for days under my blankets to keep warm. My neighbors thought I was dead. They came at my door calling my name”, she says. 

Fatouma is concerned about this winter and fears that she would not survive. The temperature has not plummeted in Lebanon yet and the weather is still moderate. However, Fatouma is already freezing. “When it rained two days ago, the water seeped through the cracks in my tent. I think I am still not ready for this winter. I am already freezing and I might not survive”, she says with fear in her eyes.

“It is ridiculous. We fled Syria because we were afraid that the house would crumble over our heads. Now we are afraid that the tent would collapse because of the heavy snow”, she ends. 

 This winter to respond to Syrian refugees’ needs, Save the Children is covering informal tented settlements’ paths with stones to avoid muddy passages. The organization will also be distributing plastic sheets and wooden timbers to families to help them support and maintain their tents.