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Field Report 6
Delivery #6 - April 24th 2013 - 1000 food boxes (14.500kg) to Aleppo
After having been back in The Netherlands for a (very well succeeded) month of money-raising I left for Aleppo again on April 24th. This time with 1000 food boxes. The contents were slightly different that previous times. The chicken sausage factory went bankrupt, so instead I chose to add half a kilo of babymilk (powder) to the box. To prevent families without babies from selling it, the babymlik was packed in simple packages instead of the well-known 'brand boxes'.
Other than that, the lollipops were missing this time because of miscommunication with the seller.
Three Syrian refugees assembled the bulk of the boxes for a competitive (but low) salary of €8,70 a day. A single truck could (just) fit all the 1000 boxes.
Once at the border with Syria it was quite a hassle. The Turkish customs wanted the truck to go through the x-ray machine. Then 15 boxes had to be opened as well. Everything was checked meticulously, but after I told them I was from The Netherlands they got somewhat nervous. They tore open the babymilk, smelled and tasted it, but the police still wasn't convinced that it really was babymilk and not a hallucinogenic powder. So the water boiler was powered on, a cup of babymilk was made and tasted.
When the customs and the red crescent were -after five hours- finally conviced that everything was ok we were allowed to rush on to Aleppo.
The first neighbourhood was Al Fardos, in South-Aleppo. Me made the local relief office make a list of the 500 most poor families in their area. In a similar way we found 350 families in Al Sukkari. We randomly checked a bunch of the names on the list. Then the names were named and after showing their IDs we gave them a ticket. With that ticket they could obtain a food box at the truck.
Here three of the 1000 people/families we were able to give help. The guy on the third photo found a creative way to earn some money. If someone found the food box to be too heavy, he could take it home on his handcart for €0.50. He only managed to get one customer, so I made him take a food box for himself as well.
A bit later it was really over. With 150 remaining boxes we decided to visit 150 families that I or some of my friends were able to find by ourselves. This took place in the neighbourhoods of Hanano, Karm al Myassr and in Sheikh Najjar.
Sheikh Najjar is an industrial area (and adjacent village) just outside of Aleppo. To my surprise it seemed like IDPs (refugees) moved into every unfinished/empty factory. I don't have the exact numbers, but I expect it to be at least 2000 people. The situation was critical. People were sleeping in empty factory halls and we even saw one family that literally slept between the goats.
Here some photo's of my last morning in Aleppo. To the left we found an empty food box, which was later taken out by a kid collecting cardboard to earn some money. The second photo shows how destructive the Syrian war is at times. The third photo was taken close to Sakhour. On the other side of the building is the notorious sakhour roundabout, where government snipers are still operational. To be able to enter their houses without being shot, residents made a hole in the back wall and a small staircase leading up to the new 'entrance' of the appartment block.
All in all the distribution went quick and well. Only three days after our departure I got back to Turkey. Now we are working on the next order.
Field report 5
Having learnt from the 'food riot' experiences from last time, I decided to work a little different this time. In the near-frontline neighbourhood Bustan al-Qasr we found some local religious activists that had a list of names of those that were the most in need of aid. Also, I took an Italian photographer with me who made all of the photos below.
This is at the border with Syria. The gate is called Bab Al-Salam, which would be something like 'door of peace' in English. For Syrians escaping their war-torn country, it probably is. For anyone going in the other direction it's quite the opposite. Normally there are Syrian helpers working here, but today there weren't any. So I had to sweat myself.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Red Crescent opened up about 10 random food boxes to double check the contents.
With the help of some local religious guys, we found some people that needed help badly and, thus, gave them a coupon for a food box. Most tickets were distributed by gathering the entire neighbourhood and calling names on the list. If a family was available, they would verify their name by showing their passport/ID and then receive a coupon. Nonetheless, the Syrians screaming the names were being run over. So they ended up on top of a burned out car to shout the names and give the coupons.
At first, people would still gather around the truck in big numbers. Later (having transferred the goods into a number of smaller cars) it became more manageable by distribution at a very slow pace, explicitly showing the received ticket, and not allowing anyone to be close to the back of the truck.
After about two hours, we ran out of food boxes and were about to leave. However, the crowd wouldn't let us. People kept asking and crying for coupons, even though there were no food boxes remaining. I managed to make my way into the car and closed the door. Some older woman opened my door again, begging for a coupon. About four other people basically made their way into the car when the door opened, so I tried to close the door. Some kids arm got stuck in the doorpath, so after having pushed him gently out of the way, we could finally go back to normal, back to Turkey, back to safety and back to relative quietness.
This fifth and fourth deliveries are highly exemplary of the great need there is in Syria right now. War has been raging in Aleppo for about 7 months. War in principle is about military violence, but it includes many more problems. With many families having lost their family members, homes and incomes and facing continuously increasing prices, it becomes increasingly difficult to survive; to the extent that people are actually willing to fight for 14kg of food..
Field report 4
Delivery # 4 - Feb. 23th, 2013 - 600 food boxes (8,400kg) to Aleppo
The food boxes had the exact same contents as last time. But this time the shipment was double the size (600 instead of 300 boxes).
We took two small trucks to transport all the boxes to the border with Syria. Once there, a Syrian friend had a big lorry available. He hadn't used the truck in ages, so first some grass had to be removed from the trailer.
First area we went to was Jabl Badro, a neighbourhood in Eastern Aleppo, where a SCUD missile destroyed many homes and killed dozens of families. I made some small food coupons, with which people could collect a food box at the lorry by handing it over to the guys there. We gave a number of tickets to persons who were gazing at what used to be their home. Other people quickly saw us 'handing out tickets on the street', and before we realized it we were encircled by masses of people; all screaming for a ticket. After some time, I couldn't move around anymore (part of the group so to speak), while people were tearing my jacket apart from all sides and crying out of utter despair.
A similar problem was playing at the food truck. People didn't seem to (want to) understand that only those with a ticket could obtain a food box. Before long, similar problems popped up there. Later we moved the truck, but it resulted in the same thing. Kids were trying to climb up the truck. People were pushing and pulling. Loads of hands in the air made it impossible in the end to give the box to the person who gave it. So after having distributed about 300 boxes we went to Tariq Al-Bab, an area in the center of Aleppo that had also been hit by a SCUD rocket, only a few days before. After about 30 - 60 minutes of distribution here, we were forced to move again and went to Haidariye, where we distributed the final 100 or so food boxes. When I was through the food boxes.
Field report 3
Delivery # 3 - Feb. 3th, 2013 - 300 food boxes (4,200kg) to Aleppo
I ordered 300 food boxes, each containing 14kg of food. The exact contents of the food boxes can be found here. Total price per box was 47,50TL (€20). Total weight of everything together amounted to 4,200kg and a price of €6,000.
Contents of the food box; it includes a.o. some staples, oil, pasta, chicken sausage and lollypops. Click here for full details on the food boxes.
February 3th, 10.00AM we reached the Turkish-Syrian border. Customs and Red Crescent employees opened some randomly picked boxes to check what was inside, and after some 3-4 hours of waiting, customs, putting signatures and receiving stamps, we could continue our journey to Aleppo.
At around 7PM we started handing out the food boxes in Aleppo's northeastern neighbourhood Sekon Shebabi again. The sheer size and concentration of IDPs in this area enables distribution to not only be quick, but also ensures that recipients are those civilians that are really in need. We would enter the buildings, knock on doors and give every family a small ticket. With that ticket they could come collect their box from the truck downstairs.
The first evening, we managed to distribute around 200 of the 300 food boxes.
Next morning we continued with the distribution. Normally, the mother would ask one of her kids to collect the food box. Kids ended up sprinting down the slippery stairs and -with the food box almost falling out of their hands- running up again; completely out of breath as they gave the food box to mum.
These kids were fast, before I knew it they were eating the lollypops I put in the box. They lived in an appartment together with another escaped family. They followed me as I checked out this adjacent room where a wall was completely destroyed by a rocket launched from a MIG fighter-jet.
Looking back, the entire process went extremely smooth. Crossing the border, going to Aleppo, everything went quick and without any noteworthy hick-ups. I wish there was a perfect solution for distributing aid though. There is a huge demand for food in Syria, especially in the bigger cities and among IDPs. Many families had hardly anything to eat except for 3-day old pieces of bread. I chose for giving food boxes only to 'appartments' (and not to individuals on the street) so as to prevent a big run on our food truck. Having your truck raided by desperate civilians is not only an extremely inefficient way of fair distribution; it's mostly a risk in itself. Big concentrations of people have in the past attracted attention of artillery and people might hurt each other during all this.
Having women begging for a box, and slapping themselves in their face around your truck, only to tell them you cannot give them anythingscreaming is extremely difficult and tough.
I can only hope that much more help will be given very soon.
Field report 2
Delivery # 2 - Jan. 10th, 2013 - 500 blankets, 450 to Aleppo, 50 to the countryside
These 500 blankets were purchased from the raised funds. Other than being double the weight, it were the same blanket as the ones from the first delivery. These however were 26TL (€11,10) each (14TL previously), so the new blankets were slightly cheaper per kg.
We only had one small truck available, so these are the first 250 blankets arriving at the border. The weight of the blankets made the car very unstable so we didn't reach higher than 45km/h driving to the border.
Fifty blankets were delivered in some small villages around Tal Rifaat, a town in the contryside of Aleppo. No photos available. However, a Hungarian video-journalist joined me for this part, his video will be available soon. We had to put some efforts into finding the people that needed help, but once I found families living in (what used to be) chicken farms and garages I knew it had been worth the efforts.
After about an hour's drive we entered Aleppo. Most of the snow was gone by now, but it was still very cold. The photo shows a number of tree stumps next to the road, since they were being chopped to be used as firewood.
We decided to distribute most of the blankets in the Sekon Shebabi neighbourhood again. This neighbourhood contains loads of unfinished apartment blocks. Most people installed doors themselves (or with FSA help) and all inhabitanst of these blocks are IDPs. This made distribution fairly easy and quick.
It's a relatively peaceful neighbourhood now, hence why there are so many IDPs to be found here. Still, signs of war and destruction are visible everywhere. In the middle of the first photo there's a destroyed appartment block. In the second photo a burned out tank is visible.
By some twist of fate (it's an interesting story that might be explained later), I ran into Dutch photographer Tom Daams, who made some amazing photos the next day of me handing out blankets.
This is in Sekon Shebabi again. This time we didn't take the blankets up into the apartments, but we made the people collect them at the car in front. First, we would inspect the apartment, see how many people lived there, how many blankets (or mattresses) there were, whether or not the family was civilian and if they had other means of heating. It was normal to hand out anywhere in between 0 and 7 blankets.
For the other photos Tom Daams made of this project, click this link.
I tried a number of times to make photos or videos of the inside of the appartments, but in many severe cases this was refused. Residents felt very ashamed of the fact that they had nothing.
All in all, the situation was often critical and depressing. With the coldest winter in years and frequently multiple days without any electricity, people were simply begging for blankets. Many apartments didn't have any windows because of shockwaves of nearby shellings and explosions. We found a number of families that were burning plastic and rubber in their stoves to stay warm. Children were coughing around it from the thick black smoke. We explained the father of the family the severity of the risks he was exposing his children to, but he said he didn't have any choice.
We found one senior guy trembling beneath a single blanket, all alone in an apartment without doors. His cousin removed the doors so he could use them as firewood in his own house. He spoke some German and seemed utterly confused. All he could talk about was a "travel passport" that would have allowed him to travel to Europe, decades ago. As far as I could understand, it was refused. He probably wished he was in Europe right now. Or at the very least, far away from all the misery that was destroying him now.
Delivery # 1 – Nov. 8th, 2012 - 100 blankets to Aleppo
These first 100 I paid from my own savings. All where distributed in the city of Aleppo. Most of them were handed out to IDPs the Northeastern neighbourhood Sekon Shebabi.
The blankets were 100% acrylic blankets and weighed 1,75kg each. According to Wikipedia; "Acrylic is lightweight, soft, and warm, with a wool-like feel."
Price was per blanket was 14TL (€6).
Our first night already proved how cold it was. We were heating ourselves by an electric stove normally used for boiling water and such. Electricity was still available in November. Tragically enough it has become a rarity ever since.
About Wijbe30.04.2013 00:36
05-04 Terug in Turkije / Back in Turkey29.04.2013 20:30