By Ingunn Brandvoll, Norwegian Church Aid
“Many Syrians are going to feel very cold this winter” says Lana. She is one of the relief project staff of the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch (GOPA) in Syria. Together with her colleagues and with financial support from churches and church organizations around the world, she coordinates relief to displaced and affected Syrians without regard to their faith or political opinion. So far the 21 months long conflict has displaced more than 2 million people and over 600,000 Syrians live as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.
Lana knows herself what it means to be displaced. At the end of May she had to leave her home and move to a safer area. After five years of hard work to establish and build up her own private clinic, she had to close it in January. It was no longer safe to receive patients. In June this year she started working with IOCC/GOPA. She says: “Working with IOCC/GOPA is very rewarding. It is good to feel how I can help even though I find myself in the same crisis and situation as others”.
Since March 2012 IOCC/GOPA has reached over 200,000 people with essential support such as food, hygiene articles, household items, clothing, blankets and heaters. However, the United Nations estimates that 4 million people or nearly one of every five Syrians are now in need of help. Lana explains that these are people who have lost their home, who are returning to their often damaged home, or who are accommodating relatives, who lost their homes. Both displaced and host families find it hard to make ends meet. Many have become unemployed, and the little income they have, is now stretch to provide also for grandparents, uncles or aunts and their children.
“Winter is here, and people do not have enough money to buy heaters and carpets. There is also a lack of fuel”, explains Lana and continues: “Some people stay in damaged buildings without windows or doors. Some of these houses or apartments have been looted so there is little to come back to except empty rooms. Still people prefer to return as this is cheaper than renting by someone else”.
As a pediatrician, Lana worries for the children, particularly the new born. “Homs is both cold and humid”, she says. “Cold weather combined with a lack of food weakens the immune system. This makes particularly children, the elderly and chronically ill vulnerable to diseases such as bronchitis and diarrhea. This is a vicious circle of malnutrition and disease”, she adds and continues: “Stress and a lack of food can result in underweight and premature babies. These newborn are at a particular risk. They often need assistance in a hospital. However, transport of women in labour to a hospital after dark is risky”.
Helping pregnant women, families with small children, and the elderly is a priority for IOCC/GOPA. Besides food and other material assistance, IOCC/GOPA provides support with rent. Further it provides information to health care workers and mothers about the value of breastfeeding and proper nutrition for infants and young children in an emergency. This is an activity close to Lana’s heart. Contrary to what many believe, instant formula milk is not the solution in an emergency situation. Lana explains: “Breast milk provides the best nutrition and protection against diseases for a new born and young child. In an emergency situation it may be difficult for the mother to ensure a hygienic preparation of instant formula milk as she may not be able to boil water and sterilize bottles. Breastfeeding also helps relieve stress and has a calming effect on both the child and the mother”.
Lana ends wth an appeal: “Syria and its people need a lot of help and support. This is not about politics, but about helping people overcome the cold winter, to repair their lives and return to normal life”.
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.