1500 Syrian refugees have lived in the building pictured above for the last 8 years. Around half of them are children. The building was only partially constructed when the Syrian civil war broke out, and it became a refugee shelter before it was finished.
The refugees who live there come from a rural village in Syria, and mostly worked in agriculture before the war. Their lives in Lebanon are extremely difficult, with most working as daily labourers in agriculture or construction, and living hand to mouth, struggling to afford the high cost of goods and services in Lebanon. Much of the community have come from one of the most war-ravaged areas in Syria, and have experienced bombings, the loss of their close family members, the loss of their homes and livelihoods, and the traumas of flight. Many of the older children were in their school when it was bombed.
Unfortunately, their situation, while perilous when I met them, is now much worse. The economic crisis that has hit Lebanon sent them teetering close to the precipice, devaluing any savings they had in the local currency, sending prices skyrocketing (I can attest to this personally as I return regularly to Lebanon), and halting a huge amount of work due to capital controls and a loss of economic confidence. The covid crisis has worsened this situation as they are now not allowed to leave the shelter, and not able to work. Most were working as daily labourers before, so they have no protection from their employers and nothing from the Lebanese state. If they had any savings before, they are probably mostly spent by now.
I met this community in November 2018, when I went to Lebanon to volunteer with an NGO that was running an informal school in the building. Their kindness and generosity to the international volunteers was impressive in light of their stressful circumstances, and I was always grateful to them for trusting us to come into their community and try to give their children a fighting chance through informal education. Although all of the volunteers cared deeply for the children and the families, many of us felt powerless to help them in a significant way. I left after a few months, feeling like I hadn't done enough. I hope that I can partially remedy that now.
One of the women I knew from the shelter got in contact with me recently, to check in on me. When we started talking about how things are in the shelter, I realised just how bad their situation is, with many struggling to afford food and medicine. Her youngest child is now in the hospital, and I don't know how she will pay the part of the hospital bill that UNHCR doesn't cover.
So I'm raising as much money as possible for the families in the shelter, as quickly as possible. My plan is to distribute it to them in cash so that they can decide what their priorities are, and what they need to spend it on. For some it will be food, for some medicine, and for others bills. I will send the money directly through Western Union (a money transfer company) to a friend that I trust in Lebanon who has worked with the community for several years, who will give it to the families I know personally to be in need. I will ensure that the money gets to the refugees by calling my contacts in the shelter to check that they have received the money. Anybody who wants to donate but wants more security or assurance about where the money is going can contact me to ask me for any information or proof that they would like. The earlier these people receive this support the better, so please give what you can, and contact me if you think there's anything else that we can do for the families.