Michel Moutot, AFP
Last updated: 16 September, 2012

Volunteers struggle to feed the poor in Syria’s Aleppo

With no help from outside and the little money they have managed to scrape together, a group of volunteers in Aleppo distributes food to poor families trapped in the war-ravaged Syrian city.

Abu Ahmad, a young man who gave a false name for security reasons, says he has a list of 5,000 such families in Aleppo — scene of fierce fighting for nearly two months between regime forces and rebels.

“I can only manage to bring a little food to 2,000 households,” he says with a sad smile.

In Aleppo’s Tareq al-Bab neighbourhood, 15 volunteers were distributing food on Thursday afternoon, requesting a team of AFP reporters not to specify the exact locations for fear of being targeted by regime forces.

“The Free Syrian Army accompanies us during distributions, to ensure safety, but it does not provide any food,” says the 28-year-old, referring to the rag-tag rebel forces made up of army defectors and civilians who have taken up arms.

“For the regime, we are terrorists because we are helping people in rebel-held areas,” he adds.

The transparent plastic packets he distributes contain olive oil, rice, pasta, tea and sugar — items purchased thanks to donations from wealthy Aleppo families or other sources.

“We don’t get anything from anyone, no NGOs — Syrian or foreign,” he says.

“A Saudi came to us two weeks ago. He has promised to help us and send money. We are still waiting.”

A veiled woman timidly knocks on the door.

“I am looking for baby milk. There isn’t any anywhere,” says 37-year-old Fatima, whose dark circles and bags under her eyes make her look 20 years older.

“My son is three months old. I have only tea and biscuits to feed him.”

But Abu Ahmad and his friends say they have no baby milk powder and don’t know where to find it.

“I also need a wheelchair for my mother,” Fatima adds before being told that she could expect it next week.

Several other women come in groups.

“You must register before, why wait until we come and see you at home,” Abu Ahmad tells them.

He identifies a family staying in a poor neighbourhood and so starts a tour of that area.

Bags of food are loaded on a pickup truck and two rebels carrying weapons show the way ahead.

In an alley the team searches for the intended recipients of the food.

A young volunteer knocks on one door with his pen. Inside are children with surprised eyes and women adjusting their black veils.

Abu Abdo, 33, had a job before fighting began in Aleppo. He used to earn about eight dollars a day.

“It’s been two months since I worked. We eat only bread and tea,” he says, grinning as he grabs his plastic bag, the first he has received since the fighting began.

In this derelict neighbourhood, almost all families are clustered behind high walls.

Unlike their wealthy counterparts, they have no cars nor money to escape the shells and gunfire and head to the north towards the Turkish border region controlled by the Free Syrian Army.

While the rebel-held areas of Aleppo receive supplies, particularly on the road to the nearby town of Al-Bab, prices have surged so much that the poor are struggling to survive.

Overhead jets circle and drop bombs on the city and helicopter gunships fire in the distance. Not far away, 11 people were killed at a crossroad.

Abu Ahmad knocks on another door.

A woman opens and within seconds her tone rises.

“I don’t want your food! Everything here is your fault, God damn you!” she screams, pointing to the sky.

The group tries to give her a package but she turns her back.