By Ingunn Brandvoll, Norwegian Church Aid
It is cold and rainy in the Bekaa Valley! On our way from Beirut to a small town on the other side of the mountain, we pass frosty fog, heaps of rain and snow. Lebanese snow! I am on my way together with colleagues from the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) to provide blankets and heaters to people, who had to flee the war in Syria.
So far two million Syrians have been displaced, and more than 600,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Of these, 195,000 people have become refugees in Lebanon, a country of only 4.1 million inhabitants. During December, some 1,500 Syrians crossed each day the border between Syria and Lebanon. They came to what may be safety, but also to miserable living conditions.
Sabeen Abdulsater is IOCC’s Project Officer for the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. She visits many of the Syrian refugee families. She tells: “When the refugees reach Lebanon, they face problems with finding a place to stay. They often stay 2-3 nights by the road before they find something. Once they have found a place, they face the challenge of keeping warm as they do not have heaters and lack money for fuel”.
Being from a cold country myself, I can only imagine the torment of days and nights of feeling cold to the bones. However, the challenge on such a rainy day, is not only keeping warm, but also staying dry. “People, who cannot afford to pay rent, use all kinds of materials and waste to build temporary shelters. The paper and nylon from the mega-advertisement bill-boards along the main road from Beirut to Damascus are popular materials”, explains Sabeen and continues: “Still these “tents” are both cold and humid with rain seeping through”. She tells about a family she met one month ago: “The family had three children between one and half, and nine years old, and the mother was expecting the fourth in two-three weeks time. The tent was very muddy, because of the rain, and the family had no heater, no winter clothes and no blankets”.
It is families like this, we hope to help today. I look around the big school hall, where we are going to distribute blankets and heaters. I see people of all sorts of backgrounds. Common for all of them is what they have lost in Syria, their homes, and that coming here is not something they are proud of. They come, because of need. Some have winter clothes, but others do not have a warm sweater or jacket. Some are obviously cold, blowing warm air into their frozen hands. Still many nod politely to me as a greeting and some even share a smile.
When Sabeen says: “It is very important to stand by these people and to help them”, I can only agree. However, as Sabeen adds: “Lebanon does not have the capacity to carry this load alone!” It makes me wondered what my own country, oil-rich Norway, would have done, if the same number of refugees as the population of Trondheim had arrived on our borders in just six months.
The United Church of Christ is supporting the relief work of our partners International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch (GOPA) in Syria.