Words: Dina El Kassaby, Photos: Dina El Kassaby & Hussam Al Saleh
Syria is the biggest and most complex humanitarian crisis of our time, with the situation continuing to worsen. Through this series of portraits, the World Food Programme gives a voice to people caught up in the conflict. Here we meet Hani, whose account of his role helping other Syrians comes just days after World Humanitarian Day — an event that recognizes those who work tirelessly to improve the lives of others.
My name is Hani. I’m 29 years old and I grew up in Tartous. My city used to be a summer holiday destination for Syrians, but now families come here because they have nowhere else to go.
I’m a lawyer but I’ve never practised. The war had already started by the time I finished my studies and it meant that there were no jobs for me. My father, God bless him, he’s older now so he can’t work and my brothers are away — one is in Aleppo and the other in Lattakia. So I’m taking care of my family alone. I work two jobs.
“I was shot in the arm a while ago when walking home.”
During the day I work with an NGO, Al Batoul for Humanitarian Services, and at night I work in a coffee shop. I was shot in the arm a while ago when walking home. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s better now, though I just have to wear a bandage and it sometimes hurts to carry heavy boxes. At least I didn’t lose my life.
My work with the NGO was a real opportunity for me. We’re partners with the World Food Programme and that means we can help thousands of families every day.
The best part is that I feel like I’m making a difference and I’m truly proud of my work. When I give a box of food to an old lady, the relief in her eyes and the prayers she says for me are enough to keep me going.
“I feel so grateful that I was able to offer something.”
When I go home at night and think about the people I meet each day, I feel so grateful that I was able to offer something to relieve their burden. These are the things that recharge and motivate me to come back the next day to do more.
The food rations we give out aren’t just bags of rice and bottles of oil for people — they’re a lifeline. We’ve reached a point where everyone in Syria is in need, and I tell them that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
I wish people outside Syria would come and see for themselves how the situation is here, rather than listen to the rumours they hear on TV. Sometimes I think death has become a commodity, a political game, and Syrians are paying the price for it.
I swear, we are good people and we just want to live. Worrying every day about whether I’ll find bread to eat or water to wash with is no way to live.
“I was lucky to get the education I have.”
If I had one free day without work, I’d go somewhere with trees and just sit silently by myself to clear my mind…I don’t have peace of mind anymore, nobody here does.
People ask if I’m upset that I can’t work as a lawyer, but I’m not at all. I was lucky to get the education I have, and when I think about it I realize that I could have been a failure as a lawyer. I’m successful as a humanitarian and that is enough for me.
Hani works in Syria’s western coastal governorate of Tartous, where he helps the World Food Programme (WFP) serve thousands of internally displaced families from Homs, Hama and Aleppo. He organizes distributions of WFP food rations to support displaced families who are desperately in need, and also participates in a new programme run by WFP and FAO that helps local vegetable farmers get their farms up and running again. Many internally displaced people from Aleppo and Homs are employed on these farms.
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