In the Syrian Civil War, one minute can change everything

Walida, a Kiva borrower in Lebanon. Story by Catherine Cocke; Photos by Brandon Smith.

The Kiva community is rallying to raise $1 million in loans for refugees and internally displaced people by World Refugee Day, June 20.

It was a minute that changed everything: Walida and her family were taking cover in their home in Syria to shield themselves from the ongoing bombing and fighting in the streets. In the chaos, they did not realize that one of their sons had stepped outside.

Wanting to be with his grandparents, Walida's son made the short walk to their home next door. The children regularly dashed in and out, playing between the 2 homes, but on this day he was caught amid explosions that lodged shrapnel into his eye.

Walida rushed her son to the overwhelmed ER that was only able to give him eye drops to relieve the pain. It was not enough, and they knew if they did not act quickly, he would lose his sight entirely. As they trekked from doctor to doctor, they heard the same refrains: The hospitals lacked the proper equipment, they were overcrowded or the treatment was far too expensive.

They realized they had to get to Lebanon for the safety of their family and treatment for their son. Because the bombing was happening all around them, they couldn't even pack.

“We didn’t bring anything with us, only the clothes we were wearing,” Walida said.

By the time they crossed the border, it was too late: Walida's son had lost all sight in his eye.

Still needing treatment for the pain, everything in Lebanon proved to be even more expensive than in Syria. When all was said and done, Walida spent more than $3,000 on her son's medical expenses.

While Walida now works cleaning houses, her husband is unable to work because of health issues, and they have struggled to pay for their expenses. When she heard from her Syrian neighbors that she could take out a loan through Kiva's Field Partner Al Majmoua, she was shocked: “We are not allowed to do certain things here, so I was surprised we could take a loan.”

They did try to register their son for school, but there wasn't any more room, as they have limited spots for Syrians. They then tried for a private school, but he did not receive a scholarship, and they were unable to afford it.

Determined to still make something of himself, Walida's son went to a local Lebanese bakery owner and asked for a job in the shop, starting as a dishwasher and now advancing to learn the art of making Lebanese pastries. His lack of sight in his right eye has not hindered his pastry-making abilities nor stopped him from pushing forward for a better life for him and his family.

His income, coupled with his mother's income from her house cleaning services, is allowing the family to slowly rebuild a new life in Lebanon. Walida was grateful to be able to take out a Kiva loan for her son's medical expenses that has helped her focus on building up her house cleaning business and in turn her income instead of being overburdened by the medical debt.

Walida is hopeful for an improved situation for Syrian refugees, “I hope my children’s social and financial situation improves,” and envisions a future where Syrians and Lebanese are not separated but living together as neighbors, supporting one another for a better life for all.


About the author

Catherine Cocke

Catherine is a proud Texan who graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in Globalization and Development and now works as the Online Marketing Manager at Kiva. One of her very favorite activities is traveling to hear about the lives of Kiva borrowers around the world, but in her spare time, you'll find her hiking, cooking, and trying to find the best coffee shops and Mexican food in San Francisco.