Understanding how Syrian refugees live is daunting. We don’t recognize their names, we don’t know the players, we can’t picture the places on the map.
A recent assessment from Food for the Hungry’s (FH) partner in Lebanon, the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), in collaboration with the international children’s charity Viva, paints the picture with startling clarity – via quotes from children, parents, pastors and aid workers living in a strange new world.
Before the war, many of the Syrian refugees were middle-class people with dreams and expectations for their lives. Their daily lives were similar to our lives, filled with their families, social functions and work . Now even the simplest aspects of life are a struggle.
Hear Their Voices
From half a world away, here are the voices of the people struggling in the Syrian conflict. If you are seeking to understand their experience, these quotes will paint a vivid picture for you.
From an aid worker studying refugee child safety:
“When simply asked for ideas on ‘What makes people safe,’ children ages 8-9 years old gave a range of answers which indicated that the experience of violence has become part of their thoughts and everyday reality, and is still very much on their minds. Amongst neutral responses such as wearing a seatbelt in a car and crossing the road safely, children also gave answers including, ‘A big sheet of metal to protect you from weapons,’ ‘Build a house with stones that can keep you safe from bombs,’ and, ‘Wear masks to protect you from gas.’ ”
From a Syrian mother in Beirut:
“My children are more aggressive here in Lebanon, more noisy, because there’s no place to go and because I’m afraid for them. And they remember things from the war. They had nice friends to play with, here they don’t have any friends.”
From a 9-year-old girl living in the Bekaa Valley:
“Sometimes I can’t find a Lebanese girl to play with – when they find out I’m Syrian they don’t want to play.”
From a mother depending on her children to earn a living:
“We fled Syria because we were starving and there was no bread. My eldest, a boy (age 15), was working at a local bakery, but was injured several days ago (a cut on his head) and he can no longer work. My two younger sons (age 7 and 10) now work selling tissues on the street. My husband is sick and doesn’t work – he had a breakdown, and he is always getting angry and shouting at the family.”
Working through churches, FH’s partners have been able to meet needs far beyond simply handing out food. You may picture refugees as living in formal camps. But in the Syrian refugee crisis, many are living in crumbling substandard housing, paying exorbitant rents. Whole families are crowded into one room, or a garage, or a storage shed.
Churches are visiting these homes, to counsel, pray and simply bring friendship to people who are strangers in a strange land. Sometimes they bring food, but they also have provided simple daily needs such as toothbrushes and shoes for growing children. Here are some quotes from the people you’re helping to send to vulnerable Syrians.
From workers providing aid distributions:
“The needs of very young children were a significant gap in support they are receiving. Apart from the need for milk, it is also difficult to buy diapers. One partner described how mothers are using sweaters or T-shirts in place of diapers, which means that the babies are suffering from diaper rash, and a partner in Syria explained that the lack of diapers is a serious health concern in the context of (displaced persons camps) with little access to water and sanitation facilities.”
Food is indeed needed as well. While FH’s partners in Lebanon are still distributing food, in some locations they have started distributing food vouchers, which refugees can exchange for food in local shops.
From a pastor:
“Now, with the food vouchers, (the families) can buy a little something for the children, and they can choose what they buy. They can take their five children and walk around the supermarket and choose – they feel like the rest of Lebanese people again. They feel like real people again! “
You Can Help
Now that you’ve heard the voices, how can you help?
Please consider a gift to FH’s Syria relief fund, which will help support children and their families in Syria and Lebanon. Also consider committing to regular prayer, not only for the families, but for the pastors, church leaders and aid workers who aim to protect children in this challenging environment. Together, we can help these people who needs Christ’s love and hope.