DAMASCUS – Outside of a food hall here, a group of children gather holding pots and buckets.
Among them is 7-year-old Abeer. She has 11 brothers and sisters — all hungry.
She waits for more than an hour before she is given some hot noodle soup, and then struggles to carry the contents of her metal pot down the street through the traffic. "We have been in Jaramana (a Damascus suburb) for two months," says Abeer.
Her family is one of millions who have fled fighting in other parts of Syria, and across the country there are many soup kitchens like the one she has to beg from every day.
In Syria there is no time for a normal childhood. But near the soup kitchen is a soccer field, where youngsters kick a ball around, laughing.
Soccer coach Hani Jamoun doesn't charge the children whose families are refugees in their own country. “Soccer is a way to distract the children from their daily lives,” Jamoun says.
But it isn't easy to escape the realities of war: Even as we are talking there is the sound of an explosion.
Jamoun then points to a hole in the AstroTurf where a mortar landed two weeks ago. On the same day, three mortars landed on the soccer field and 10 came down on the building next to them, he says.
And there’s the sound of gunfire as well. Even as the displaced register for help at a food distribution center in the same area. One wall of the center is covered in sheets bearing the names of those registered for aid. Each sheet has one hundred names of destitute families.
"A year ago we were feeding one million people, today we are feeding 4.24 million," says Mathew Hollingworth, Syria’s Country Director for the World Food Program.
"We have to have some kind of solution politically in Syria because the humanitarian crisis is getting to the point I've never seen in any other country I've worked in."
Inside the center, families are given basic provisions like oil, rice and blankets – but everyone waiting for help has a story.
Hassan Rahmoun holds his 4-year-old daughter Amina. They fled Idlib, in northwester Syria, because of bombing , he says.
One woman, Eda Sulioman, 52, hobbles to a chair with a walking stick. Last August she was walking down the street when something happened that left her in a coma for two months. She still doesn’t know what happened. Probably a bomb, she says. Meanwhile, Rouada Namess a mother of four, pleads, "I don’t have the money for rent, all this is good but I need money."
Prices have gone up in Syria, and Namess says the costs for her family have risen 1000 percent. At gas stations people fight to fill up even small containers, while the price of fuel and food is rocketing.
This war started almost three years ago as a popular uprising against President Assad. It's since turned Syria into a sectarian slaughterhouse — growing even more deadly as outsiders come in to fight on both sides, and terrified Syrians abandon their homes.
Back on the soccer field, 10-year-old Habib says his family came to Damascus after "the terrorists started attacking."
His words show that, in this divided country where the current brutality will echo for generations with little hope of reconciliation, the future for Syria’s children is looking increasingly bleak.
First published December 18 2013, 5:14 PM