DAMASCUS – Japanese aid worker Eriko Hibi is unequivocal when giving her view of the ongoing situation in Syria.
“We cannot overcome this unending crisis unless we do something other than handing out supplies,” says Hibi, 52, who works for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, supporting people who remain in the war-ravaged country.
“It is a harsh environment facing civil war, but I hope that a lot of people will acquire skills to become self-sustaining.”
Hibi moved to Damascus in March 2013 to support Syrian farmers and the displaced, after working at the FAO headquarters in Rome.
While saving citizens’ lives and providing food aid are considered priorities in Syria, her mission is to help with the country’s long-term recovery.
Hibi, who previously worked at the United Nations Population Fund’s office in Uzbekistan, has been interested in the field of development ever since she traveled as a college student to Nepal, where she saw villages and farms devastated by floods made worse by deforestation and environmental degradation.
In Syria, she visits farming communities to offer technical assistance so that people will be able to fend for themselves while distributing crop seeds needed to grow wheat and various vegetables.
In April, Hibi went to a town besieged by Syrian government forces to distribute vegetable seeds, hoping that the residents could produce crops within the community and improve the availability of fresh food, as no aid could breach the blockade.
Syria has been gripped by war since 2011, leaving hundreds of thousands of civilians and combatants dead and forcing countless people to flee their homes.
The people remaining in Syria face starvation as aid organizations have been unable to get enough supplies to areas where fighting has raged.
Still, there are people who cling to hope, Hibi says.
She remembers tough women who are raising children on farms after the loss of their fathers and husbands, and met professionals such as veterinarians and engineers who chose to stay in the country to rebuild and attempt to keep society functioning.
Seeing them struck a chord with her and makes her feel attached to Syria, Hibi says.
The native of Kobe says she cannot leave the Middle East, despite being away from her husband and two children, who live in Rome, until the job is done.
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