This week we were back in Lebanon, after a break of 2.5 years due to the pandemic. It was a strong reunion with a country in greater crisis than ever.
The first meet was a tough one in the Bekaa Valley at wednesday. Two small children hit by cars, poor Syrian parents, we were asked to help pay for operations and hospital stays.
Both broke an arm and the jawbone, in both collisions the drivers ran away.
In such emergency cases, the hospitals accept the injured, even if they cannot pay for themselves. Then they are completely dependent on external donors, otherwise they will have to owe money they do not have.
These families came from Aleppo in 2013, the children, like 500,000 (!) other Syrian children, were born in Lebanon.
In another case, we were at the home of a family from Homs, whose son needs regular medical treatment for epilepsy. This is not considered an acute condition, they are also completely dependent on external donors.
The day began with a meeting with the minister of Social Affairs, Dr. Hector Hajjar. He is concerned that the shaky economy and conditions in general in today’s Lebanon, require that the aid organizations do not forget the country’s own inhabitants. According to the UN, more than 75 percent of the inhabitants now live below the poverty line, with less than USD 2 a day in income. It is an extreme number in a country where the standard of living a few years ago was at a completely different level.
Thursday we visited, among other things, «Camp Norway», the camp that Sandra Cederholm presented to Alfred Ydstebø and me at Christmas 2016. It was a mixed reunion. Fortunately, the standard of the tents has improved, step by step, most now have either crushed stone or concrete as floors, instead of clay. Clay that turns to mud when it rains.
The residents seem well-off, but it basically stops there. We met Aya, who six years ago wanted to become an English teacher for the other children in the camp. She went to school in the nearest town and impressed with her good knowledge. Now Aya is 16 years old, she no longer goes to school. The parents cannot afford the school bus, and they receive no financial support from the shackled Lebanese state. Nor does the UN give them money anymore. Aya hasn’t been able to practice her English since 4th grade, and had to have everything we said translated. It was sad to experience.
We also had the opportunity to buy a wheelchair for a 7-year-old Syrian, developmentally disabled boy. A small thing for us, a big event for the boy and his family.
The civil war in Syria is in a phase where large areas have been declared safe, such as around the big cities of Damascus and Aleppo, as well as the tourist and seaside resort of Latakia. So why isn’t Aya’s family going back home?
Aya has four siblings after the years in the tent camp. The parents say they come from an area in northern Syria where there are constant battles between the rebel groups, government forces, Turkish forces and Kurdish militia. They have nowhere to go, they say. And adds that most people who has fled Syria is also unwanted in their home country.
The standard in the camp is well above average, thanks in large part to chance. Some of this must be attributed to Base Aid and Mange Bekker Små, who have had a special eye for it. There are still a million refugees living in bleak camps in the Bekaa Valley, they live there because they have no alternative. In addition, there are at least 500,000 Syrian refugees living elsewhere in Lebanon. The number is so high that it is difficult to comprehend.
At the meeting with the minister for Social Affairs (on Wednesday, we were strongly encouraged to contribute to an old people’s home for Lebanese. This is a bit outside our area, but when we heard they have no money in their account, an empty fridge and will soon run out of electricity and hot water, we decided to fill up their units with diesel for the winter. They live in three- and four-person rooms, with a toilet and shower in the hallway. We also bought food for the 11 residents for the next week, as well as nappies and other necessities.
Due to the economic situation in the country, the manager’s salary has been reduced to NOK 200 a month, I had to ask several times if I heard correctly. She manages in a way by having two other jobs on the side.
We are only scratching the surface with this work, the need for help has increased dramatically in recent years. Many private aid organizations pulled out during the pandemic, and with all the other humanitarian crises around the world, the funds that reach the individual refugee are getting smaller and smaller.
Thanks to the great and strong team of MoSA for the coordination of our latest mission in the Bekaa Valley!