Syria’s gravediggers: Brothers’ plight to feed their family

By Omar Youssef — Idlib

A child Ahmad digs the grave and prepares it to receive the body of a Syrian man in Idlib countryside (Aljazeera)

Syria has become a place where children have a closer connection with death than life. Every morning, 15-year-old Ahmed al-Jassem and his little brother head towards a remote area in the countryside of Idlib, northwest Syria, carrying with them shovels and digging equipment instead of books and pens like other children their age. Their daily morning job is to dig graves — something al-Jassem never imagined having to do to for a living, in an area described as the bloodiest and most dangerous.

Preparing for death

After choosing the location for the grave, the brothers start the digging process. They dig up the soil, measuring the suitable length and width for a grave. As for the depth, it could be anywhere between 1–2.5 metres, as per the request of the family of the deceased. Once their job is done, the brothers receive an amount of money, anything from 1,000–3,000 Syrian pounds ($2–6).

Ahmed digs the grave with a depth of one meter or more, as per the request of the family of the deceased (Aljazeera)

Sometimes his hands tremble when preparing the grave for the dead, al-Jassem tells Al Jazeera, but he does not feel intimidated, he says, because the dead cannot move or speak. Instead, he says, you should pray for them, recite Al-Fatiha (the first chapter of the Quran), and water the grave from time to time.

Growing up too soon

More than a year ago, al-Jassem left his school in Idlib to support his family. “Life is difficult and the burdens of living costs are heavy,” he says.

While the al-Jassem brothers spend their days digging graves, other children roam around them, intrigued by the graves and dead bodies in a country torn by war and military power struggles.

Idlib looks like a tragicomedy scene where al-Jassem’s livelihood increases along with the number of civilian deaths in areas near the cemetery where he lives. People there are dying as a result of the vicious bombings by the Syrian regime and Russian warplanes in opposition-controlled areas.

Going to the cemetery, the daily scene of Ahmed and his companions ( Aljazeera)

A dream to wake up from the nightmare

Al-Jassem hopes that the war in Syria will end soon and the bombing against the civilians stop so that he can return to school. He wishes to see all the displaced people leave the camps and return to their homes before the winter comes.

Ahmed al-Obaid, 36, from the Hama countryside, lives in a tent in a displacement camp near the cemetery. “Most of the children in these tents are working to help their families. They work hard [doing] arduous jobs as a result of high living costs or because their fathers have died in battles or bombings.”

Al-Obaid says that child labour is a growing concern in most displacement in the northern region of Syria. According to him, the jobs they do vary from selling biscuits to collecting and selling cardboard and plastic.

Preparations of the grave to receive the dead (Aljazeera)

On the edge of life

Al-Jassem’s is not an isolated case, having to leave school to be able to provide for his family at such a young age, as more than two million Syrian children live in similar circumstances. In fact, more than a third of Syrian children are not in school, and a million children are at risk of dropping out, according to a United Nations report released in August 2019.

The UN report indicates that 40 percent of school infrastructure in Syria was damaged or destroyed in the war, while one in eight children in each class needs specialised psychological and social support to achieve effective learning.

According to the UN, more than 83 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line, forcing children to work to be able to survive.

Source: Aljazeera.net (Original Content -Arabic)

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