When we arrived in Lebanon in 2012, we came to serve people like Ramia. Ramia is from the city of Homs in neighbouring Syria. Like millions of others, she fled bombing and violence in her home country and sought refuge in Lebanon, hoping she and her son would be safe. She spent her first night in Lebanon sleeping in the mud. ‘I felt like a homeless person sleeping out in the street,’ she remembers.
Recently, news from Lebanon has shown us all how the devastating explosion in the centre of Beirut left more than 300,000 without homes. Our team in Lebanon has been working around the clock to help people seal up broken windows and doors, and to begin healing the psychological wounds caused by the blast through front-line ‘psychological first aid’. The stories we have heard about that day in Beirut have been heartbreaking.
A Forgotten Crisis
However, we are still responding to the crisis that brought us to Lebanon in the first place: to serve Ramia and the thousands of Syrian refugees like her, as well as vulnerable Lebanese families in need of support. Our first interventions focused on emergency shelter – making sure that people were no longer sleeping in the mud. We quickly increased our programming to include health and psychosocial support, recognising that people arriving from Syria had little access to health care even before they fled, and seeing the emotional impact of their experiences. As people were desperately building shelters across Bekaa Valley, we began an innovative mapping project to ensure that Syrian refugee families could be located by humanitarian organisations.
Humanitarian crises are never static, which is why we have also responded to floods, fires, and to sudden policy changes that have left Syrian refugees without a place to live, all within Lebanon in the past eight years. In 2020 alone we have radically adapted our programming to ensure that we limit the spread of COVID-19; building an isolation centre and ensuring that the staff in the health centres we support have the training and materials necessary to protect themselves and to identify and treat COVID-19 cases. We also helped local organisations distribute urgently needed hygiene items like toilet paper and soap to vulnerable families.
Since October 2019 the situation in Lebanon has changed drastically. An economic downturn has skyrocketed the cost of essential goods and led to a lack of work prospects. In the Bekaa Valley, many people – including refugees – have lost their jobs or had their incomes significantly reduced. Of course, there is also the COVID-19 pandemic. Many refugee families living in the Bekaa Valley live in informal tented settlements, where crowded conditions provide little opportunity for social distancing or isolation from others. People may also be lacking an adequate source of safe water for handwashing. Without work, many vulnerable families – both Syrian and Lebanese – will not be able to afford the health care needed to treat COVID-19.
As Lebanon shows, humanitarian emergencies change and shift with time. This is why it is so important for us to remain adaptable, innovative, and ready to listen to the communities we serve about the challenges they face. When the explosion in Beirut happened, we were able to respond almost immediately. Members of our team were in Beirut the following day, meeting with families and assessing the needs of those most affected; others remained in the Bekaa Valley, continuing to serve vulnerable families in that region.
Your Support Matters
Of course, our ability to respond so quickly to the explosion in Beirut was in part because our team is adaptable and innovative; their commitment is truly humbling. They wouldn’t be there on the ground, however, without generous donors who contribute financial support in amounts large and small. In humanitarian aid work, access to private funding enables us to respond rapidly to emergencies even as they evolve within a larger crisis. This funding means we can conduct rapid assessment of the needs and immediately provide the help that is required; procuring emergency materials such as tarps and ropes, and coordinating logistics to ensure that we can be where we are needed most as soon as possible. Funding from private donors allows us to be flexible and opens a door to serve more people. We’re grateful that we had the ability to react quickly to the Beirut explosion, and will continue serving vulnerable Syrian families, thanks to the commitment of our individual donors and their generous hearts.
Click here to find out more about our emergency response in Lebanon.