During the second week of December, Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) distributed a total of 1,000 sheep and 10 tonnes of sheep feed to support returning communities in rural Homs and Latakia.

Rural Lattakia, Syria, 2016 A lamb takes its first steps just moments after birth. The mother gave birth during a SARC/IFRC sheep distribution in rural Lattakia. The livelihoods project will assist 500 families in rural areas of Homs and Lattakia who have returned to areas previously affected by conflict. Each family received two pregnant sheep and a supply of feed, plus agricultural and vetinery advice.

A lamb takes its first steps just moments after birth. The mother gave birth during a SARC/IFRC sheep distribution in rural Latakia. Photo: Syrian Arab Red Crescent

Each sheep was pregnant and reached families in time for lambing season. But one ewe could not wait, and the new owners received a surprise arrival of a newborn baby lamb to take home with the mother.

“It happened so fast!” explained Yolanda Davila, IFRC Livelihoods Delegate who was present at the distribution. “The sheep are a strong native breed, and the ewe knew what to do. In less than five minutes, the baby lamb had been born and was already standing. It was a wonderful surprise for the family who took home two sheep and the newborn to get settled in.”

In total, 500 families (200 in Al Hosn, Al Shawahed and Midan, and 300 in rural Lattakia) each received two sheep, and 200kg of winter sheep feed now, and will receive a further 200kg in springtime.

Most of the people in these areas were farmers before. They returned home to devastation – both their homes and businesses had been damaged or destroyed by the crisis. But they still have their skills – in farming, breeding, cheese making – and the determination to start again.

“All the people we are helping are returnees – they had to leave their homes due to the crisis, but now have returned and need support to rebuild their lives. They have the skills and experience in agriculture, and they will also be supported by a SARC agricultural advisor,” said Tareq Al Asraf, Disaster Management Coordinator for SARC Homs branch.

“Without this kind of support, people will be more likely to use what we call ‘negative coping strategies’. For example, they might eat less food, perhaps just meal a day. And they eat food with poor nutritional value, making them more vulnerable. The best way to help them is to provide the means to help them make a living, and support the local economy.”

Ahmad and his cousin Mustapha are two former farmers in Al Shawahed who will benefit from the project.

“When we came back, we had nothing, zero. Three of my brothers died. We used to have 50 sheep, but 15 were stolen, and I had to sell the rest. My home was destroyed, just ashes, so now we all live at my mother’s house, which suffered less destruction.”

“We used to breed sheep so this is what we do again – this is our living, we are experts! My mother used to make cheese to sell in another village, she was well-known for her cheeses. So we hope to do this again. With these sheep, we can regain our future. So we want to say a big thank you.”