Oct 16, 2015

Meet Ahmed


I cannot emphasize enough how much your support is making a difference. I want you to meet Ahmed (name changed for security reasons), 32, who is a Syrian refugee living in northern Lebanon. He is part of Concern's psycho-social support program in Lebanon. 

Just a few years ago, he was working at a prominent job and living in his own home with his wife and two children, busy, successful and satisfied. Like many men, the crisis has caused so much stress and shock to him and his family. Shamed by the inability to cope for their families, frustration and violence at home is often a result. To help refugees cope, Concern initiated a ground-breaking program creating 45 men’s groups and empowering them to take back control, develop pride and build a new community of support.

“We started to know each other,” said Ahmed, who led one of the groups. “Then we started to trust each other. We began to talk about family issues and ask each other’s opinions. The sessions went deeper and deeper. We began to shine a light on violence against women, and early marriage.

“In all of us, something changed 180 percent. A stone began to be lifted from our hearts. After these sessions, we could breathe again.”

This is Ahmed’s story.

In early 2011, when rumours surfaced of teenagers being arrested and tortured in the southern city of Daraa for writing anti-government graffiti – events that marked as the start of the civil war – Ahmed simply didn’t believe it. He also thought protesting against his government was wrong.

But only weeks after the events in Daraa, he witnessed a clash outside a mosque in Homs. “Twenty people were killed that day. Blood was everywhere,” he said. “This was the first proof I had that our government was killing its own people.”

Confused, he quietly began to follow rebel publications, trying to understand what was going on within the country he loved. But he continued his work faithfully and kept his doubts private.

One day, a colleague from work called early in the morning and asked where he was. “On my way to the office, of course,” he said. But both the call and his colleague’s tone were unusual enough to put him on edge.

Waiting to catch the bus to work, he found himself lost in an internal debate: “I should return home immediately. Nonsense; I should go into the office to find out what is happening.” When he arrived at the office, his colleague told him the manager wanted to see him. “The manager had never asked to see me before. I felt even more afraid.”

He went into the manager’s office, and the manager said, “I just wanted to ask. How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Ahmed said slowly, deliberately.

“Good. Okay, that’s it. Go back to your office.”

Ahmed left, increasingly worried. “The whole atmosphere felt suspicious,” he said. “After ten minutes, I returned to my manager’s office. I said, ‘why are you asking about me?’”

“No reason. Just return to your office,” the manager said.

“At that moment, I had the chance to run away. I don’t know why I didn’t do it,” he said.

Instead, he returned to his office and sat at his desk, unable to concentrate. A colleague approached him and murmured in his ear: “What are you doing here? You aren’t supposed to be here. You are dying today.” He began trembling all over and got up to leave. He glanced out his window and saw six Toyota Prado jeeps, used by the army, pull up, and men armed with weapons emerge.

“At that moment, I knew they were coming to get me.”

He tried to leave his office, but a tall, armed man met him and grasped his hand tightly. “Hello, Ahmed. You’re Ahmed, aren’t you?” he said.

This is when Ahmed says he felt certain he would soon die. “But still I insisted: ‘Tell me why you are arresting me.’”

Instead of getting answers, he was blindfolded and carted to a prison in central Damascus. He was held for about six weeks and tortured, as were others – the bodies of those killed during “questioning” were placed in a corner of the prison – but he skipped over that quickly to tell an interviewer: “Don’t think of – they beat children.”

Ahmed closed his eyes for a moment before continuing. “One child I will never forget. He was a boy, seven years old, a great boy. They brought him in carrying his backpack. They put a metal choke around his neck and the whites of his eyes turned so red. They said he was arrested for protesting the government. I asked him if it was true.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said. “What does ‘government’ mean?”

“I told him everything would be okay soon. Just hold on,” Ahmed said. “But I don’t know if that boy made it out.”

He lost track of days but now knows that it was about six weeks before he was taken to court and informed that he’d been arrested for anti-Syrian activity for watching an anti-government media outlet. The judge was a Sunni Muslim.

“He said this charge should be heard in another court, not his, and that I should return home and would receive notice within days to return. He told me that I must not leave my home while waiting for the notice, and then he said, ‘You are free to go until your trial.’ But though his words said one thing, his eyes said another. I could see he was telling me to run away.”

Ahmed arrived home ill, thin, weak, “almost dead,” he says, and his wife concurred. “He didn’t even know where he was,” she said. “He was in shock, and he had beating marks all over his body.”

A few days later, he left his home and headed for Lebanon. “I’m only a 45 minute ride from my home, but I was walking for eight days to avoid being captured,” he said.

“In those eight days, I saw death, I saw bombings, I saw tragedy. In those eight days, I saw war.”

Once he arrived in Lebanon, he sent for his family, but he said he knew he had psychological issues. He was constantly afraid, constantly angry, confused about his and his family’s future.

He heard about Concern’s program to provide psychological support to Syrian refugee men and reached out, asking if he could join one of the groups. Concern suggested supporting him in starting a new group and he did, approaching one-by-one his new refugee neighbors.

Meeting weekly in sessions which included videos, guest speakers, worksheets, and discussions on Quranic guidelines, the men – 25 per group – weighed refugee community priorities and discussed how to gain power and self-worth while focusing on the principals of self-empathy, empathy for others and honest self-expression – methods of non-violent conflict resolution developed by Marshall Rosenberg.

At the end of the 12 weeks, they also received $1,000 to invest in a project that would benefit the entire community.

“Before, I never even thought about our treatment of women. I never asked about my children,” Ahmed said.

“Being a refugee is something very hard. But it made something inside us that is very beautiful. A lot has changed and we have lost a lot. Maybe, though, we are stronger now.”

I hope this story has moved you as much as it has moved us. On behalf of our entire team, family and volunteers, thank you so much for showing your concern and helping people like Ahmed. I look forward to providing more reports soon. 


Sep 29, 2015

Education Support for 47 Schools in Dolakha, Nepal

Temporary structure:Shree Latteswor Primary School
Temporary structure:Shree Latteswor Primary School

Thanks to the generosity of donors like you, Concern continues to reach some of the most vulnerable and hardest to reach areas in Nepal that desperately need assistance. With the help of our partners, we are now focusing on our next recovery priority- establishing learning centers in both Dolakha and Dhading.  

In Dolakha, work is well underway. Our plan is to provide education support for 47 schools in the area. To give you a little background, Dolakha is among the districts in Nepal hardest hit by the recent earthquake and the area continues to frequently experience aftershocks. In response, Concern Worldwide, along with the national implementing agency Rural Reconstruction Nepal (RRN), has been actively providing emergency support. In addition to providing emergency relief kits, Concern has also been focusing on repairing the country’s education sector, which was hit especially hard, as most schools collapsed as a result of the earthquake. To facilitate the continuation of education in Nepal’s villages, the Government of Nepal has developed the Temporary Learning Center (TLC) model, which constructs temporary educational structures out of steel struts and corrugated galvanized iron (CGI) sheeting. In June, along with RRN, Concern conducted an assessment of schools in its operational village development committees (VDCs) and determined that 392 classrooms in 47 primary and secondary schools were found damaged, with most educational materials lost. This has affected more than 10,000 students. 

Concern has now committeed to supporting the building of TLCs with CGI sheets for the roofs, labor, white board provisions, bamboo, and mats for early learning centers. We spent the summer carrying our assessments, signing of Memorandas of Understanding with 24 schools and organized meetings with school management committees and village education committees at each school. The objective of the meetings are to create a sense of ownership amongst community representatives and build capacity. During these meetings, stakeholders discussed the details of the education support including the objectives, criteria and payment procedures. The school management committees also shared their schools' needs, which include toilet facilities, drinking water, computers and furniture. The committees also requested that community members be trained in construction, as there is currently a shortage of skilled labor available to suppor teh construction of the new schools. The meetings have helped to reactivate Village Education Committees (VECs), which have not been functioning in the past four years! 

It's been a busy summer, but our teams on the ground are hard at work with our recovery efforts. Next time we report to you, our teams will have completed our TLC work in Dolakha and work will be well under way in Dhading. Again, on behalf of the thousands of families and children you've helped us reach so far, a very sincere thank you!

PS- Here is one small glimpse from the field from Shree Latteswor Primary School. 

Shree Latteswor Primary School
is a small school located in Ward 1 of Malu VDC in Nepal’s Dolakha district. The school was constructed in 1997 to serve younger children who previously did not have access to schools close to their homes. The earthquake completely destroyed the school’s three buildings and six classrooms.  After being closed for two months following the earthquake, the school reopened in a temporary structure. However, there is an urgent need for more classrooms and furniture so that the school’s 30 students (10 boys and 20 girls) can continue their education. The school is eagerly awaiting our support. Says school principal Om Bahadur Shrestha, “We have already made the structure for the building and we are waiting for the roof sheets. We also need the sitting materials for the students.” The school is currently holding exams; when they complete, the children will be leaving for holiday. Everyone hopes that upon their return, the children will be safely ensconced in an improved temporary structure. 

Jul 21, 2015

Over 74,000 People Reached Through Concern's Emergency Kit Distributions

Distribution: supplies being unloaded
Distribution: supplies being unloaded

Thanks to the generosity of donors like you, Concern has been able to reach some of the most vulnerable and isolated communities in Nepal that were desperately in need of assistance. In fact with the help of our partners, we reached three of the ten worst affected communities: Sindhulpalchowk, Dolakha and Sindhuli. In total, 14,027 households have received life-saving emergency shelter and hygiene kits through our distributions. A total of 3,939 were distributed by our on-the-ground partner, Nepal Water for Health in Sindhuli and another 10,089 by our other partner Rural Reconstruction Nepal. Of that figure, 9210 were distributed in Dolakha and 879 in Sindhupalchowk. Altogether, these efforts reached 74,711 people.

Reaching the communities was a challenge as many of the worst affected areas were either cut off or were extremely difficult to access due to landslides or damaged infrastructure. Roads were often bumpy and after rains, roads became thick with mud, making many impassable. 

The feedback from communities has been very positive with many smiling for the first time in a while. The kits were designed to meet or exceed international standards. The contents were culturally appropriate and took into account community priorities (ie a solar lamp was added at the request of communities).The distributions were carefully planned in collaboration with the Nepalese government and with the major Shelter and WASH (Water, sanitation and health) agencies and they met humanitarian guidelines for priority preventions. All distributions were conducted with official district beneficiary lists and each distribution recipient was required to sign or fingerprint the name sheets. 

This is just the beginning of Concern's response. Our next priority will be to establish learning centers as well as help people quickly recover their livelihoods through access to cash. We will also focus on rebuilding any damaged water and sanitation infrastructure.

On behalf of the thousands of families you've helped us reach so far, a very sincere thank you! 

PS- Here is a link to a blog that was written by one of our staff members, Daniel Gray, in relation to the challenges of distributing relief to Nepal's countryside. http://www.concernusa.org/story/off-the-road-the-challenges-of-distributing-relief-to-nepals-countryside/   

Dom Hunt distributes tarps in Sindhupalchok
Dom Hunt distributes tarps in Sindhupalchok
People queuing for tarpolin
People queuing for tarpolin


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