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As I walked into the house of Um Ahmed, her warm smile struck me.

Um Ahmed is a mother of six who fled the violence in Syria six years ago. She has been living in informal settlements in Lebanon ever since. Over the course of the past years, she has experienced immense loss and challenges. Two years ago, Um Ahmed lost her husband, hit by a sniper bullet when he went back to Syria to visit family who stayed behind. She was never able to say goodbye to him.


To make matters worse, following a fall from a ladder, she is now unable to move her body from the waist down.

Yet, Um Ahmed is one of the strongest people I have ever met. She is following physiotherapy for her injury and doing all she can to keep moving around in her house, using assistive devices provided by Medair and other organisations, such as the wheelchair that sits in the corner of the tent. Despite the limited income generated by her teenage sons, and the uncertainty about the future as a refugee family, she stays positive and keeps sharing her smile with those around her.

I met this strong and resilient mother during a week-long visit with our corporate partner Qlik to Medair’s programme in Lebanon, a small country with the highest number of refugees per capita.

Eight Qlik staff members flew from all over the world to see first-hand how Medair uses Qlik’s software products to support Syrian refugees living in informal settlements in the Bekaa Valley, an area hosting more than 351,000 refugees.

A day after we set foot in Beirut on a hot summer day, we left for one of the larger informal settlements situated between Zahle and the Syrian border. When we arrived, a distribution of shelter kits had just started. My Medair colleague Reine Hanna explained that by using data analytics, which is supported by Qlik’s software, our response time to the needs of the refugees has improved a lot. It has come down from three weeks to one week; sometimes even shorter.

“In the Bekaa Valley, Medair has identified and mapped 99 percent of all informal settlements, ranging in size from one to two hundred tents. This mapping is shared with UN agencies, donors, and all other relief organisations that are working in the region so that everyone knows about unmet needs. This project allows us to assign an address to people who have lost their homes,” Reine said with great enthusiasm.

"Based on what I learned in education, I viewed the sector as old-fashioned. Seeing how Medair helps Syrian refugees in Lebanon changed my view completely. Using modern tools, like Qlik, enables them to make data-driven decisions and be very efficient in their work." Viktoria Lindback, Qlik

The next day, we visited a number of  refugee families. This is when I met Um Ahmed. We were warmly welcomed in her house, a tent set up by Medair. Drinking tea together, we listened attentively to her story. I could almost feel her pain when she told us about her husband, her voice thick with emotion: “He loved his children so much.”

Um Ahmed clearly radiates the same love for her children. It’s beautiful to observe the caring interaction between this mother and her family. Just before we finished our tea, I asked her: “What drives you to stay so positive and smile a lot?” She answers as she puts her hand on her mouth and giggles: “It’s me, of course I smile! Why shouldn’t I smile? I smile to show my children that they have nothing to be afraid of.” After a moment of silence, she continues: “If I can’t smile anymore, I will die.”

Touched by her story and resilience, we left Um Ahmed’s place. I’m grateful that through the use of innovative technology supported by Qlik, we can find isolated refugee families such as Um Ahmed’s and walk alongside them during this difficult time.

Coen Gorter is Medair’s Interim Information Technology Services Director