Between Assad Government-imposed starvation sieges, Russian airstrikes, Islamic State radicals, massacres by all sides, drowning refugees and failed peace talks — there is little good news out of Syria.
But hidden behind the headlines of death and destruction, millions of people in rebel-held parts of the country are living lives of extraordinary resilience.
They are working to build sustainable communities and giving hope that a normal and free existence might one day be possible.
Dotted across the north-eastern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, which border Turkey, in the rural suburbs of Damascus and in the southern province of Deraa, almost 40
communities are functioning outside both regime control or the influence of Islamists such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State.
This is the real "free Syria".
Civilian councils are implementing projects covering everything from the supply of water and electricity and other essential services, to education and health facilities, vocational training, women's empowerment, road building and good governance.
It is being funded by a $34 million program run by the British Government's Department for International Development (DFID) — and it has already directly benefited more than 1.4 million Syrians.
While the projects provide immediate improvement to the quality of life in war time, it is also hoped the initiative will give civilian councils the skills and knowledge to sustain democratic institutions based on the principles of good governance and transparency when the war eventually ends.
Working from Turkey, one of the program's area managers, Amr Shayyah, coordinates four communities in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, assisting teams inside Syria to get projects underway.
Mr Shayyah said it was more than simply humanitarian aid, as the scheme was empowering civilians to resist oppression, and filling a power vacuum that could be exploited by armed groups.
"If we are not providing services, then the armed groups will. That's bad, especially if they are Islamist," he said.
"For example, we provide vocational training to 15 to 18 year olds. They are learning skills and in a few months will be ready to work, to earn.
"If they were not in training they would be on the front lines. We are trying to get these people's lives as close to normal as possible."
'The people of Syria were never asked for their opinions'
One the communities Mr Shayyah manages is Darret Azzeh, a city of 40,000 people with another 60,000 living on its outskirts, in rural Aleppo. The city fell out of regime control to the Free Syrian Army in 2012.
It was one of the first areas to rise up against President Bashar Assad when protests broke out in 2011, demanding freedom, equality and dignity.
When the movement developed into an armed insurgency, the city became a symbol of the revolution's resilience, with Free Syrian Army rebels weathering aerial bombardment from regime aircraft and attacks from Islamist radicals.
"The people of Syria were never asked for their opinions," Mr Shayyah said.
"We are asking them what they need. They are getting the chance to express their democratic opinion and learning how to run things ... away from systems of nepotism and corruption."
At Darret Azzeh's vocational training centre, 16-year-old Mahmoud is learning mechanics for four hours after school each day.
The youngest of five children, two of his brothers are fighting with the rebels, while another two are refugees in Turkey.
"I had no experience with this. Now I know how to generate a magnetic field to provide electricity," he said.
"I've helped my family and friends start their generators, so now they have electricity ... and I fixed my mum's washing machine, which made her smile.
"My father thinks we will be able to open a shop now. If there was no institute, then for sure I would be on the front lines."
Feydan, 30, earns $100 a month training 24 women in sewing at the women's centre in Darret Azzeh.
A refugee from the conflict zones in rural Aleppo, her husband went missing in 2012, leaving her with five young children to raise singlehandedly.
She heard of the work at the centre at her local mosque.
She and the other
women produce pyjamas for men and children that they sell for between $5 and $10 at local markets, with the profits going towards purchasing fabrics and salaries.
"If I hadn't found this job, I would have to move again. It changed my life 100 per cent," she said.
Russian warplanes strike bakery expected to feed 18,000
But while the communities prosper, civilians in free Syria are increasingly coming under attack by Russian airstrikes.
In the latest attack on the British-funded communities, Russian warplanes struck near a bakery in the Hazano area of Idlib, killing eight people, including three children, and rendering the bakery inoperable.
It had been expected to help feed 18,000 people daily.
Russia, a long term backer of the Assad regime, has said it is targeting Islamic State but the West rejects that claim, saying that Russian airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians in areas where there is no Islamic State.
The UK's Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond, recently said the Russians were "deliberately attacking civilians and the evidence points to them deliberately attacking schools and hospitals and deliberately targeting rescue workers".