SYRIA – January 9 2018 Q&A: New SOS centre in Damascus offers refuge for children from besieged areas A temporary care centre on the eastern outskirts of Damascus is providing children from besieged areas of Syria with urgently needed care and temporary shelter. The centre, which opened in November, focuses on younger children and adolescents who carry out menial work help their families survive. Opened in partnership with UNICEF, Jaramana Drop-in Centre has helped more than 100 children – many of them who live and work in the streets - since it opened in November. The centre also supports vulnerable families through a separate SOS Children’s Villages programme that provides temporary help to families to encourage their working children and adolescent to return to school. Jaramana, on the outskirts of the capital, has been a major destination for Syrians displaced by fighting in other parts of the country. In the following interview, Mohammad Massoud, Project Manager for the Drop-in Centre, talks about the needs of children and what SOS Children’s Villages does to help. How would you describe the condition of children who are coming to the centre? Most of the children survive by collecting plastics to sell, or they sift through waste to find food or other things to survive. As part of our outreach, we find that the families depend on this money to survive. In other cases, parents told us that they enrolled their children in school at the beginning of the year, but because of bad experiences, the children refuse to go again and prefer to work. Most of the children coming to the centre are affected by trauma because of the war, the pressure to earn money, and there are also cases of sexual and physical abuse. Some of these children pick up bad habits on the street – they are addicted to alcohol, some sniff glue. There are hygiene and health issues as well. Many children are suffering from scabies or other health problems because of poor living conditions. For these reasons it is essential that we are able to respond to the psychological, health and basic educational and vocational needs of these children. What help is the centre providing for children? Many of these children come from families who are struggling for their survival. The centre is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and offers a shelter for both girls and boys, addressing basic needs such as a protected place to rest and bathe. Equally important, we provide basic health care, psychological and social support, as well educational activities and vocational training. The centre offers recreational activities and entertainment that allow these children to be children. How many children have been helped so far? The centre opened in November 2017 and so far has helped more than 100 children. But this is just the start. Our assessment shows that there are at least 850 children and adolescents in areas surrounding the centre who are doing menial jobs to generate income to help their families survive. The need is great and grows more urgent with every day of fighting. The SOS Children’s Villages Drop-in Centre is near Eastern Ghouta, an embattled suburb of Damascus. What impact does this have on your work? There has been fierce fighting to the east of Damascus and at times shells have fallen near Jaramana, where the SOS Children’s Villages Drop-in Centre is located. Our security advisors closely monitor the situation to ensure that all measures are taken to protect the children and staff. We are always hopeful that the situation will stabilise. When it does, we expect that thousands of families who are trapped in besieged areas like Eastern Ghouta will urgently need help. We want to be ready to help the families and provide children from these areas with psychological and social support that is so important to their longer-term care and mental health. How does the situation in Eastern Ghouta compare to other besieged areas such as Aleppo? Our security assessment shows that the situation in Eastern Ghouta today is like the situation in Eastern Aleppo during the heavy sieges of 2016. Certainly the needs of the children and vulnerable families are no less urgent than they are in Aleppo and other areas where there is or was fighting.