NORTHERN ALEPPO COUNTRYSIDE — In the Syrian province of Idlib, where hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Syrians struggle to make a living, a new initiative has revived the communal spirit, through a much-needed clothing drive.
In the first stage, Oct. 10-Nov. 10, campaign organizers placed five collection and distribution boxes in various parts of Saraqib, a small town 12 miles southeast of the city of Idlib. The haul was then organized for distribution to the needy before the harsh winter sets in.
The campaign, Think of Others, is the brainchild of Saraqib Youth, a group established in 2014 by young people eager to volunteer. The group had previously organized a number of educational activities, such as producing plays for children and conducting photography courses, in attempts to try to normalize life in Saraqib, which made international headlines when Syrian government helicopters dropped chlorine gas on it on Feb. 11.
The 20 volunteers for the clothing drive obtained permission from local councils to set up boxes around town, after which they conducted an awareness campaign to inform residents of the location of the boxes and what to put (and what not to put) in them: no summer clothes or items that are so old or so tattered as to be unusable.
With collections underway, the team began sorting through the donations and repairing pieces requiring some mending. Team members then organized the clothes for the process of people dropping by to pick up what they needed from among the items contributed.
Ahmad Khatab, the campaign manager, spoke to Al-Monitor, explaining the impetus behind the project.
“As winter approaches, poor and low-income families face even harsher challenges,” Khatab said. “This is especially true of the displaced living in Saraqib, most of whom do not have a job to earn money and buy clothes, so we wanted to help them, without hurting their dignity. At the same time, we wanted to show the way to people who wanted to help but did not know how.”
“It does not take much — just the clothes you no longer use,” Khatab emphasized. “The campaign calls for donating only usable clothes. It also calls on beneficiaries to take what they need but to also think of others.”
Campaign volunteer Ahmed Sheikh Ahmad told Al-Monitor that the boxes made it easier for both sides, noting, “People in need could head to the spots where the boxes are and choose the clothes they need for themselves or for their family members.”
“The campaign aims to promote a culture of social solidarity and community participation in light of the difficult reality that people are living under the weight of the war, poverty, displacement imposed on many Syrians,” Khatab said.
“The team members conducted a general assessment on Nov. 10,” Ahmad said. “They were told by the locals that the campaign had been appreciated by the people of the town. This is why the group decided to add more boxes in the next phase.” It has not yet been determined when the second phase will begin.
“There is no time limit to the campaign,” Ahmad remarked. “We might expand it in the coming period to cover the rest of the cities and towns of Idlib to help as many needy people as possible.”
According to Ahmad, Saraqib Youth has the financial means to continue the clothing campaign and has received some support from local councils. The initiative might usher in a series of similar efforts in Idlib, he said, noting that some of the people involved in the clothing drive had suggested also organizing food or furniture donations.
Houda Sheikh Ali, who works at the Women Now Center in Saraqib and provides psychological support to women in the region, told Al-Monitor, “The Think of Others initiative is a significant step to encourage local people to donate, to feel empathy for others and to help fulfill their needs.”
She noted that there were many families in town who wanted to help the needy but did not know where to send donations. “The campaign serves as an intermediary,” she said.
Ali also pointed out that the campaign helps the poor in a discreet way that does not hurt their pride. “Some charities take photos of the needy in a humiliating way while delivering financial aid or food,” she commented. “I hope that the campaign grows bigger to include food, blankets, and other items.”
Providing a child under 10 years of age with winter clothing would typically cost 25 Syrian pounds ($50). The majority of struggling families cannot afford this, as anything they earn goes toward the basics — food, rent, water and electricity. Hence the need for campaigns like Think of Others.