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© UNHCR/A. McConnell
Scattered debris and concrete bones of buildings blanket the neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs, Syria. These are cruel reminders of the conflict that drove some 80,000 Syrians from their homes over five years ago.
Now that calm has settled in again, Syrians like Sabah are the first to return home to repair their roots and dust off the town they left behind to the fate of war.
Sabah remembers vividly the day her home was struck. “When the house was shelled, we felt a huge explosion. We ran out of the house. We looked up and saw that a floor had collapsed.”
It takes years to build a home, but only seconds to destroy it. Rebuilding will be difficult and costly, but Sabah is determined to restore what was lost.
Her home in Baba Amr was more than a place to live, it was a sanctuary of good memories before war and violence became part of her everyday life. “I didn’t want to leave it and lose all these memories,” she said.
Now Sabah has transformed her war-torn home into a place of refuge. She rents two out of three floors of her home to those displaced by conflict.
“I feel their pain. They struggled, they fled, left their homes. I feel bad for them. I help those displaced so they don’t leave our country,” she says about the family she rents to who most recently fled from Raqqa.
Sabah believes that if she can provide them with sanctuary, then they might not have to leave their beloved Syria.
One day they might return to their homes just like she did – an incredible feat considering over 6.6 million Syrians have been displaced inside Syria due to conflict.
Yet hope perseveres. Slowly, life emerges from the dusty ashes of Baba Amr. Children return to school, smiling in bright uniforms. Shopkeepers and sellers like Yousef find a thriving market for business.
It was in the neighborhood of Baba Amr that Yousef found a problem he could solve. Residents had nowhere to buy fresh food so he asked the townspeople to lend him money to start a vegetable business out of the back of his truck.
“Cauliflower! Potato!” Yousef’s deep voice bounces off the exposed concrete and into the streets. The back of his pickup shines with fresh vegetables he brings into town to sell.
Like Sabah, Yousef is part of the pioneer community that’s revitalizing war-torn neighborhoods. It’ll take years to regain what these refugees have lost, but that won’t stop them from piecing the remains of their towns back together.
“We have to be patient and optimistic. Otherwise we won’t be able to move on. We have to be brave. We cannot be weak, so that we can rebuild our homes [and] make them better than how they were before,” Sabah said.
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