Umm Omar makes her way back home, after having finished work at three in the afternoon, carrying very little food for her children eagerly awaiting her arrival in front of the house.
Umm Omar is one of the many women forced to work, often after their husbands were wounded in the ongoing war in Syria. She works in the fig pressing plant, in the center of her hometown al-Barah in the Jabal al-Zawiyah region in northwest Syria, and has four children.
Her life changed ever since her husband suffered a fragment of shell while he was working in the construction field, thus causing his leg to be amputated.
Says Umm Omar: "I found myself forced to find work to provide for my family after my husband's injury; especially as his previous daily work was our sole income." She adds that she has no experience in any work outside her house, and that her children are too young to work as well.
The quadragenarian confirms that she searched long for work until she found this work—pressing figs, and at a meager salary barely enough to bring few items home, she says.
Umm Omar expresses her contentment, saying: "Thank God for having found this work which, although paying the bare minimum—but, still better than nothing. Especially that I see my neighbor Umm Louay; her husband was detained two years ago, and she has not found a work opportunity to date. Her children need care, and she is now forced to live on aid and assistance from here and there. "
In these circumstances, Umm Omar's husband feels her suffering, as she began to complain of pain in her hands due to her work. He says: "I am unable to extend her any help. This makes me feel sad and despondent."
He adds: "If only I had any amount of money, I would have opened my own store, and helped her with home expenditures."
For his part, Abu Abdullah the figs' pressing plant owner, confirms that many women work for him, and that he gives salaries of up to 400 [Syrian] pounds per worker per day.
He explains: "While it is true that this is a small amount if compared to the high cost of living; yet I cannot pay them any higher salaries, because I will lose if I did."
The Story of Salwa And Potatoes
The husband of Salwa, from the village of Hzairin, sustained an injury to his head as a result of an explosive barrels thrown from Syrian regime helicopters, and suffers from a mental disability as a result.
The twenty-four-year-old says: "My husband used to work in Turkey and bring in some money every two months, that was enough for me and my children. But after suffering this disability, I no longer know where to get any money."
Salwa adds that her husband's family is also poor; his brothers can barely secure their own families' expenses. As for her family, they have been refugees in Lebanon since three years now, and only sent her a puny amount anyway.
Salwa continues: "A relative secured my work peeling potatoes for some shawarma restaurants. I start work in the morning, and by the evening I would have finished peeling five bags, each containing 15 kgs, for a hundred [Syrian] pounds per bag. This means 500 pounds total per day; with which I can buy food for my family and some diapers and milk for my daughter."
Salwa stresses that she is happy at the end of the day, when she is capable of securing her family's necessities—despite the immense difficulty of the work she performs.
Both Hanan And Her Young Son Work!
While working in his vegetable transportation truck from Kafranbel to Baliyoun in Jabal al-Zawiyah, Hanan's husband was injured by shrapnel from a rocket that landed near him; after which he was incapable of working, thereby altering her and her six children's situation.
Hanan describes her situation: "Doctors advised him not to strain himself, or to work for his living. He therefore stopped working, and his small car broke down due to the incident anyway. Repairing it is quite a costly affair as well."
After that the family was forced to sell the car, spending the amount on their livelihood for a few months; until both the mother and her son Mohammed started working.
Hanan currently prepares and mixes thyme—a well-known type of food in Syria, which people use for breakfast with olive oil and traditional oven-baked bread. As for her sixteen-year-old son Mohammad, he left school and started working as well.
The young man Sells Sahlab [an Orchid-based popular hot drink] on a pushcart in front of schools and in public places. Whatever money he earns, he gives to his mother.
What About Relief Materials?
Abu Ahmed, responsible for the distribution of relief materials in Baliyoun, says that they distribute aid per month to poor families, army defectors, widows and families of detainees. When some families fail to receive aid, it usually is the case that there are families more in need of this aid, or that the quantity available is limited.
A rough estimate of the number of wives currently working instead of their husbands as a result of injury, is in excess of 150 women in the region of the Jabal al-Zawiyah villages. This number is poised to increase further in coming days, as a result of the continuing war in Syria.