What does going home mean to you?

Maybe a warm welcome, familiar surroundings and a good meal with the people you love?

Ahmad and his family could not rely on any of those things when they returned to their devastated village near Homs, Syria.

But thanks to two pregnant sheep, this is about to change.

A bittersweet return
A field with rubbish, rubble, some dried grass in the background and a few chickens in Homs, Syria

© IFRC

Known before the conflict for its olive trees, wheat fields and livestock, the area around their village was reduced to rubble by fighting.

Families were forced to flee and abandon everything.

“When we came back, we had nothing, zero,” Ahmad said.

“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.”

A thousand sheep get things started
Two men lift a sheep down from a flatbed truck in Homs, Syria

© Abdul Azia Al-Droubi

But the conflict couldn’t take away people’s years of experience and knowledge in farming and cheese making.

So we found a unique and effective way to help.

In December, the Red Cross and our partners, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, distributed two sheep each to 500 families who had returned to the countryside around Homs.

Families also got 200 kilograms of sheep feed and will get another 200 kilos in the spring, as well as help from veterinary services.

Benefits will multiply naturally: each sheep was pregnant and reached families in time for lambing season. Over time, they can rebuild their herds to make a living as they did before.

“All the people we are helping are returnees,” said Tareq Al Asraf, from the Red Crescent.

“They had to leave their homes due to the crisis, but have now returned and need support to rebuild their lives.

“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.”

Eager lamb gets a head start

One ewe could not wait, and her lamb was born during the distribution.

“It happened so fast,” explained the Red Cross’ Yolanda Davila, who saw the birth.

“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.”

A group of men stand in a road leading sheep away as Red Crescent volunteers and women watch in Homs, Syria

© Abdul Azia Al-Droubi

“We used to breed sheep so this is what we do again – this is our living, we are experts,” Ahmad said.

“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.”

Our teams will continue to support families like Ahmad’s through monthly visits to help with any problems or issues.

We will also share information on how to keep the sheep healthy and productive, and give them vaccines.

“With these sheep we can regain our future,” Ahmad added.

“So we want to say a big thank you.”