Project Description

Help for refugees in Rojava/Syria

In April/May 2024, we returned from our aid mission in the Kurdish region of Rojava in north-eastern Syria. Our impressions and the people there have left their mark on our hearts and we are both grateful and proud that we were once again able to provide important support on the ground. This was made possible by hundreds of people in Austria and Germany: through their financial donations and high-quality donations in kind, as well as countless helping hands – a real caravan of humanity.

In the far north-east of former Syria, bordering Turkey and Iraq, lies a Kurdish region called Rojava. Thousands and thousands of internally displaced persons live there. Some of them were well-off families who were driven out of their homes overnight by IS or Turkey and have now been living in cramped conditions in huge tent camps for refugees for years. They were hardly able to take any of their former wealth with them and the little they had saved has long since been used up. Countless children in these camps know no other life than that between four walls of plastic sheeting and a world behind a wire mesh fence.

Our team visited several of these huge refugee camps, each with almost 20,000 residents. Our clown shows and painting workshops enabled us to meet the people living there at eye level and give them hope and joie de vivre through our presence.

Thanks to the many donations from our supporters, we were able to build a large photovoltaic system with buffer storage for a hospital in the largest city in the Syrian region of Rojava. This means that the daily power outages in the hospital can now be bridged and permanent patient care can be guaranteed.

During the Syrian civil war, the Rojava region was repeatedly the scene of bloody fighting. In Central and Western Europe, this was mainly reported due to the advance of the Islamic State (IS). In fact, many players were and still are interested in this area. While IS has now been pushed back as far as possible and only appears openly in a few places, other actors are not sleeping at all. Above all, Turkey is currently a military aggressor against the inhabitants of Rojava.

But the USA and Russia also have a military presence. There are at least ten US military bases in Rojava. Unfortunately, the well-being of the Kurdish population is not the focus of interest here either. Rojava is rich in oil – there’s probably nothing more to write…

Men and women alike are still fighting against oppression and exploitation by foreign powers, sometimes using guerrilla tactics. Although they have currently achieved a certain degree of autonomy and can largely administer the “Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava” themselves, little of the added value from the black gold remains in the country and with the population.

The trade routes are also very limited. Syria, ruled by Assad, sees itself deprived of this area of land and is preventing major trade relations, while the EU is also harming the people of Rojava through its strict Syria sanctions. Turkey would also prefer to starve the Kurds of Rojava, so a large part of the trade passes through small, sometimes unofficial border crossings to neighboring northern Iraq, which also has an autonomous Kurdish government.

Over the past few years, we have gained a lot of experience in collecting, sorting and, above all, transporting donations in kind and the associated – often laborious – bureaucracy. Although many friendly aid organizations predicted in advance that it would be a real logistical and organizational feat to transport a truck full of relief supplies to Syria, we wanted to attempt the seemingly impossible. Our aim was to distribute the urgently needed relief supplies in Rojava in the best possible way.

So we were all the more delighted that our Karawanis succeeded in making the almost impossible come true. After weeks of bureaucratic battles, over ten tons of donations in kind (school materials, toys, diapers, wheelchairs, bicycles, Waldviertler shoes, …) passed through all customs formalities and were finally allowed to cross the border!

In the area around the town of Qamishli, we were then able to distribute everything to the people who urgently needed all these things. In the run-up to the project, our two local partner organizations (the NGOs “You are welcome” and “Jinda”) compiled lists of the items we needed and we were able to collect them in a targeted manner.

With the €36,141.36 in donations, we were able to support important projects such as a street children project, a center for children with disabilities and a women’s empowerment project. We also bought urgently needed relief supplies locally and distributed them directly to the people.
  • We used €16,000 of the donations to finance and install a large photovoltaic system, including a solar panel. Storage for a hospital in Qamishli. In the event of everyday power failures, work there can now be carried out more independently and safely.
  • In weeks of work, 10,740 kg of donations in kind were collected, sorted and loaded into the truck. After nerve-wracking bureaucratic efforts, we finally managed to get the truck across the Syrian border and our Karawanis were able to distribute the relief supplies on site.
  • Heini Staudinger and his company GEA Waldviertler have once again contributed 1,000 pairs of Waldviertler shoes, which have also reached their happy new owners.
  • Our two clowns held eleven clown shows for around 1,300 children.
  • In eight mobile painting rooms, around 630 children were able to paint and draw to their heart’s content and give free rein to their emotions.
  • A women’s bicycle club was supported with dozens of bicycles. In this empowerment project, girls and women learn to cycle together. Despite the legal equality of men and women, women on bicycles are a rarity in Rojava.
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“For the people on the ground, who feel surrounded by enemies and abandoned by the international community, our aid mission had a very special – above all emotional – meaning.”

MEIKE DIRKSEN - CARAVAN OF HUMANITY