The promise of a brighter future

Omar and Hiba’s family escaped war-torn Syria. Now, Mary’s Meals is giving them hope for the future. 

Back to all stories | Posted on 08 Aug 2017 in Blog

As the bus Hiba was travelling in approached another checkpoint, her children feigned sleep beside her.

Only the elderly and very young were permitted to leave the area where her family lived in Deir ez-Zor (a district in Syria near the Iraq border) and the mother-of-five knew her children’s survival depended on fooling the guards into believing she was their grandmother. 

“I changed my look as women were not allowed to leave the local area – only elderly people,” she says. “The children could leave, but we had to pretend they were asleep at all the checkpoints so that no-one would ask them questions.”

One year on, the family are safe and more settled, having joined Hiba’s husband Omar in Lebanon (he moved to the country three years earlier to find work to support the family). Omar works in a local restaurant and acts as the concierge for the apartment building the family have a modest room in.

“I used to come to Lebanon to work before the war to support my family,” Omar says. “We had a big home [in Syria] and I was not planning on bringing my family here, but people were being killed in their homes so I had to. 

“When the conflict began, the children had to stop school. We could not get medication. I was afraid of Amal [Omar’s eldest daughter] being asked for marriage. Armed men wanted money from our land. They stopped my brother’s photography business; we don’t know why. They just came to make us afraid.

“After my family left, there were attacks in the area and we lost 17 family members. All – maybe except one or two – were women and children.”  

Omar longs to return to Syria and the life they once had, but only if he can guarantee his family’s safety. 

Although they are now safe from the fighting, life is not easy for the family in their adopted country, and their financial situation is worrying – they struggle to buy essentials like clothes, or medication for Hiba who is now diabetic. 

Thankfully Omar and Hiba’s five children are now receiving Mary’s Meals at Antelias Primary School, offering them the chance of a brighter future. 

“The first day they went to school we had no food to give them,” explains Hiba. “When we were told that they were getting food we were happy because now they can eat and be equal to their friends. It is a big support.” 

The Mary’s Meals programme is designed to help families just like this one, to attract their children – who for a large part of their young lives have endured unimaginable trauma – into the classroom where they can receive a nutritious meal and an all-important education. And that, fills Omar with hope for his children’s future: “I want my children to be open-minded. I want my kids to get a good education and to be employed, with a secure future. 

“The children are very happy to be going to school and getting the sandwiches from Mary’s Meals. I am happy as a father that someone is teaching them and feeding them. Thank you for helping.”