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Orphanage director: ‘We try to fill this emptiness with what we have’

An estimated 37,000 children are living without their fathers and […]

18 July 2016

An estimated 37,000 children are living without their fathers and 6,000 without their mothers, reported the Syrian Network for Human Rights in June. The reasons vary given the nature of this war, says the director of an orphanage located in rebel-held Idlib province.

“It’s possible that their parents are still alive, but they just aren’t able to feed them,” Abdelqader, the founder of the Kahatayn orphanage, tells Syria Direct’s Noura Hourani.

Kahatayn is funded by the American Rescue Fund, Canada Life along with a group of Syrian doctors living in the United States. The charity transfers children without any living guardians to their center in Turkey. There, it provides medical treatment, education, housing and psychological support to orphans in Reyhanli, Turkey, five kilometers from the Syrian border.

Though its main facility is in Turkey, Kahatayn also operates in rebel-controlled areas in Outer Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo, where it provides food, stipends and education allowances to 3,000 children.

Since 2011, Kahatayn, named after a hadith by the prophet Mohammad about orphans, has documented 35,000 children who have lost their mother, father or both, said Abdelqader, who asked that only his first name be used.

“We will never replace their father or mother, but we try to fill this emptiness with what we have.”

Q: Where do you operate?

Our main center is in Reyhanli, Turkey, but we currently operate in Outer Damascus (East and West Ghouta), Homs (al-Waer, Talbiseh and Houla), Hama (Morek), Idlib and Aleppo. In the past, we worked in Jabal al-Turkman in Latakia until it was taken by regime forces.

 Orphans at a communal breakfast during Ramadan. Photo courtesy of Kahatayn Facebook page.

Q: How many children have you registered? How do you register them?

Until now we have registered 35,000 children. We register them by recording their family name. Once they are registered we are able to provide services.

We provide $50 monthly allowances to 3,000 children who have a living guardian.

We support the child’s new guardian, perhaps a grandparent or an uncle, [through the allowances] and lighten the burden so they can continue to take care of the child.

Q: What services do you provide children at your main center in Reyhanlı?

Our shelter is for children who have lost both parents. We support all their needs: food, drink, medical treatment, psychological support and education. There is also a language center, games and Internet.

We also shelter mothers who came with their children. If the child is under 10 years old, both him and his mother stay in the shelter. If he is over 10, we rent a house for him and his mother.

We build a relationship with the mother to renew her trust and hope in life. She must teach her child how to re-build Syria in the future.

We will never replace their mother or father, but we try to fill this emptiness with what we have.

Q: How do you transfer children to your center in Turkey?

It is difficult to transfer a child without living guardians to Turkey, as many children in rebel-held areas don’t have a birth certificate. In these cases, we present papers to the legislative body of the Bab al-Hawa court. The court verifies our documents that prove the child is in our custody. Once we complete this process, we can move the child to our center in Turkey. Before transferring a child, we promise that if one of his relatives is found we’ll return him to Syria. 

[Ed.: Bab al-Hawa, the only open official border crossing between rebel-held Idlib province and Turkey, was closed after an attempted military coup last Friday.]

Also, in case the child’s address in Turkey changes, we inform the legislative body and provide a document signed by four witnesses in front of a judge. We translate the papers to Turkish so the official can confirm them.

Q: What about education? Do you have schools and special curricula?

Orphans who live with their relatives go to schools that are in rebel-held areas like all other children. Those in care centers are sent to schools in Turkey with children.

Q: Who supports you?

There is no Arab country that supports us. In addition to independent projects we run, we get support from the American Rescue Fund, doctors from Idlib who live in America, and Canada Life.

Q: Which children’s stories have affected you the most?

We have a center in Idlib. A set of twins were found outside a mosque covered in new blankets. They were six months old, a boy and a girl. It’s possible that their parents are still alive but just aren’t able to feed them. Now the twins live in our care center.

Another time, three children and mother were separated after a barrel bomb struck their home and killed the father. We thought the mother had been killed during the bombing, but we still posted pictures of the children on our [Facebook] page. Seven months later the mother contacted us from Lebanon. The mother thought her kids had died under the rubble. Now, she lives with her children at our shelter. 

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