Idlib, Syria – Nearly a year ago, Nader Mohammed Al-Bakri, 43, and his wife, displaced people from the southern Idlib countryside, met their little girl Jouri.
Nader and his wife of 22 years, who have lived in the town of Sarmada since 2013, underwent several surgeries and lengthy treatments to conceive, all without success. They were desperate to have a child.
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“I still remember her first look,” Al-Bakri told Al Jazeera. “I felt it when she smiled at me, I was her father.”
There is no Islamic adoption in the Western sense of the word in Syria, however, fostering a child is possible and is usually a lifetime arrangement.
Nader heard about Child Houses, a temporary care home for children ranging from newborn to 18 years old in northwestern Syria. Established in 2019, it takes care of minors who have been abandoned or are unaccompanied or separated from their families.
Nader and his wife applied to be considered as foster parents to one of the children at Child Houses, and a few weeks later, they heard the wonderful news: they could foster a two-month-old baby girl.
“Right away, we decided to name her Jouri because the name symbolises the Damask rose and she will be the flower that adorns our lives forever,” Nader added.
Jouri is now a year and a half old and has started taking her first steps and calling for her mother and father.
“The greatest moment in my life was when Jouri said ‘Baba’. I felt like I owned all the treasures of the world and forgot all my worries,” he said.
“Life before Jouri was hell and life after Jouri is paradise,” said Al-Bakri.
Ahmed of the soul
The joy that finally having a foster child is obvious on the face of another couple, along with a few tears. Abdul Khaliq Msalahlou and his wife Khawla Ghazi sit in a family room in Child Houses and look lovingly at the baby boy they will be sponsoring.
This is a dream come true for them, after so many years, they are finally becoming parents.
After trying fertility treatments for a long time, Khawla and her husband decided to try sponsoring a child.
“All the pain, the deprivation of the past 15 years vanished today when I first held Ahmed. I chose his name before I even saw him,” said Khawla, 32, from the western countryside of Aleppo.
“I’m a childcare provider, but working with children couldn’t fill the void in my life. I needed to be a mother to a child who lives with me,” Khawla explained.
When Khawla received a message from Child Houses to come to meet the child they would sponsor, she immediately rushed to buy necessities and set up a room for him, she told Al Jazeera.
“I decorated Ahmed’s room with bracelets, on which I wrote ‘Ahmed Al-Rouh’ because he will be my soul and beating heart.”
The abandoned children of Syria
As the war in Syria continues to cast its dark shadow, forcing people into desperate situations, child abandonment has increased, particularly in the northwestern regions.
More and more parents are forced to give up their children because they cannot afford to take care of them or guarantee their safety or well-being as they try to outrun the bombs.
“Every month, three to six newborns are abandoned by their parents in northwestern Syria,” explained Faisal Hamoud, the Child Houses programme director, adding that the number is even higher for older children because of the increased financial burden on families,
“The percentage of homeless children increases by 20 percent each year,” he said.
The United Nations classifies children who have been separated from their families, are unaccompanied or live with elderly caregivers or people with disabilities as among the most vulnerable.
Child Houses follows specific procedures for each child, Hamoud explained. It starts with looking for the child’s original family and then extending the search to family tracing, seeking out relatives or former caregivers. The last step, if they cannot trace the child’s birth family is finding an alternative family.
“The vision of Child Houses is based on the right of every child to live within a safe family that preserves, protects, and cares for them. This principle is derived from humanitarian principles and child protection principles,” said Hamoud.
World Children’s Day is celebrated annually on November 20. Declared in 1954, it aims to promote international unity, raise awareness among children worldwide and improve child welfare. The theme for 2023 is: “For every child, every right.”