The last time Farat saw her husband, he was going home.
Life in Homs during Syria’s war had twisted the peaceful life they knew into a series of grueling life-or-death decisions. As the sounds of gunfire inched closer, they had to decide how long they could stay. With no jobs, they had to decide how they would provide for their children. And when Farat’s husband left to find work in Lebanon, she had to decide when she would gather her three daughters—including the 4-month old baby she had just delivered—and risk the journey over the border to join him.
Farat and her daughters fled from Syria to Lebanon in 2013, part of the 1.5 million Syrians who moved there in search of safety. But like so many others, they found that safety in a new country came at the cost of the things they needed to build a life: a school for her daughters, the support of friends and family, and secure jobs that would provide for their family.
Farat’s husband had come to Lebanon as a carpenter, but the work he found wasn’t enough to provide for their family. And so with no other options, the two of them decided he should go back to Syria alone to sell their home in Homs and return with the money.
It was the last time she saw him.
“My husband thought that if he could go back to Homs to sell the house there and bring the money for his family it could improve our situation,” she says. “Unfortunately, he did not come back. He was lost.”
Five years later, Farat and her daughters—Hind, Zekra and Razane—have settled in Lebanon, where the three girls attend school and live in a quiet house in the shadow of Lebanon’s mountains. The longer they stay here, Farat says, the less her daughters will remember about the things they lost: a father, a country, and the life they had built there.
As it became clear they wouldn’t soon return home, it fell to Farat to provide for them. Farat had volunteered for a medical nonprofit in Lebanon when she heard about Mercy Corps and submitted an application for a spot in a local cash-for-work program. Soon she was attending trainings that brought Syrians and Lebanese together to nominate a local project to rehabilitate.
The group decided on a school playground. Shortly after, Farat received a call: She was being promoted to supervisor.
“I didn’t know what a supervisor meant,” she says. “I pretended that I understood, but really all I knew was I had been promoted to some extent. I called my cousin to explain it to me.”
"[The project] made me very strong," Farat says. "In Syria, I had no work experience. I had a fragile and weak personality. At the beginning of the training, they tried to get everything inside of me out and help me express myself. Then, when they asked us to present projects, they gave each of us a topic to study. When we presented our studies they were very attentive to every detail. I felt that I introduced something important."
“The work was great. There was no discrimination and everyone was treated equally. They cared about everyone and we were all satisfied and happy," she says.
Thanks to the program, Farat’s community now has a safe place to play, and Farat found a way to support her family. But the leadership training she received as supervisor benefited her in another way, she says: as a mother.
It gave her the confidence to be an example to her daughters—to talk about what they had been through together, to cope with their new life, and to remember the place they came from: just over the mountains, and a world away.
“I told my kids that Syria is the most beautiful country in the world,” she says. “It was our homeland.”
Around the world, clean drinking water is a matter of life and death.
In DRC, these life-and-death circumstances are exacerbated by other risks: violence, conflict and weak infrastructure that further threaten the most vulnerable.
That includes children under the age of 5. Lack of access to clean water, sanitation facilities and hygiene practices are the main causes of diarrhea, which is the second most common cause of mortality for young children there.
We’re working directly in communities to help change that. And women like Noella, pictured above, are instrumental in making that change.
Water Challenges in the DRC
Long-standing insecurity and violence in DRC are forcing desperate people from their homes in search of peace. Families are fleeing their traditional rural and farming areas for towns and cities where they feel safer.
Around 4.5 million people are displaced within the country. This past year, the violent situation has only worsened. This increased level of displacement — coupled with mismanagement and lack of funding for water for more people — has led to a shortage of clean water in Goma and Bukavu in eastern DRC.
In many places, when water isn’t available, it often takes hours of walking to reach a water source. And there are no guarantees that it’s clean. When water is available locally, long lines to reach the taps or wells are likely.
That’s why we’re there, in the communities that need us most, improving access to and education about water for the most vulnerable citizens of Goma and Bukavu.
Imporving the Health of Communities in the DRC
Groups of about 15 women meet all over Goma in DRC to discuss how to keep their children healthy. Noella leads this one.
Noella, a social mobilizer volunteer for Mercy Corps and mother of three, is working in Goma to provide that water education. She’s been volunteering with us for two years to reduce the number of deaths of children under the age of 5.
“[Mercy Corps training] is very important because I have seen some changes in my family in the past year,” she says. “Through the Mercy Corps training, we know how to treat water and how to get clean water. And we know different ways of keeping the place clean and we have seen some changes in the way children were easily getting affected or falling sick. Since I’m getting that training I’ve seen a reduction in the sickness of children.”
In 2016, when she started, there were more than 343 cases of children suffering from diarrhea and about 22 deaths among them. Since then, with the work of care groups like hers, the diarrhea rate in children under the age of 5 has been reduced from 10 percent in 2017 to an impressive 2 percent in July of this year.
Each volunteer who is part of Noella’s group has another 15 women that they share their learnings with.
There are approximately 3,200 volunteers in Goma and each person has 15 people in their group, totalling approximately 45,000 women across Goma.
Noella fetches water at a pump that Mercy Corps installed near her home in Goma.
“All the lessons that you've been teaching us are very important, [like] how you've taught us to wash [our] hands before starting activities like cooking,” says Banyere to Noella, who has been teaching her. “The lessons that you have been teaching us [are] bringing us peace because if there is an outbreak of cholera, if we're following the teaching of Mercy Corps we [won’t] be affected with the cholera.”
Noella showed us some of the hygiene methods she learned from our trainings, which she now shares with others: using a water container with a lid, using soap, washing plates and putting clean dishes in a new basket, discouraging using a cloth to dry dishes, and using three buckets for washing and rinsing.
Noella also visited a clinic for children with malnutrition and participates in other social mobilization activities with volunteers and local Mercy Corps team members, like showing educational films to other community members.
These activities reach additional people, mostly pregnant women and women with children under 5, who do not participate directly in Mercy Corps’ women’s groups.
“[It’s important] to learn and share with our neighbors in regards to protecting our children who are under 5 years,” says Zawadi Cecile, 36, another program participant. “It is important so that they do not fall sick because of the stress it causes, and it costs additional money.”
And that’s the value of empowering people directly affected by crises. Noella may be just one volunteer, but she is part of a larger movement that’s making waves across her community.
How you can help
Silvie Bienda, a program officer in DRC, left, walks alongside Noella as she heads to the pump to fetch water.
This year, we’ve doubled our humanitarian response in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We plan to help more than half a million Congolese over the next year, making Mercy Corps one of the largest organizations working in the country.
Help us make our work go even further by donating today.
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Hurricane Florence formed and strengthened to a Category 4 in the Atlantic as it headed toward North and South Carolina. It was a slow moving storm with heavy winds, making flooding from rain and strong storm surge the biggest concerns. While Florence did reduce to a Category 2 before making landfall at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina with winds around 90mph. Florence then slowed and spent several days moving very slowly over the area at speeds of only 2-3mph, dumping nearly 36 inches of rain in some places, making it the 8th wettest storm in US recorded history.
As predicted, the storm surge combined with Florence’s slow movement and enormous amount of rain (an estimated 8 trillion gallons of water) caused heavy flooding throughout North Carolina, South Carolina and parts of Virginia for several weeks. Two weeks after Florence moved northeast, floodwaters were continuing to rise in some parts of the Carolinas. Additionally, at the height of the storm approximately 1.5 million people were without electricity due to power outages caused by downed trees and estimates that the power could be out for several weeks despite the prepositioning of power teams in advance of landfall. Due to flooding, the power company teams had a lot of difficulty reaching certain areas for repairs.
Mercy Corps’ Response
On September 11, Mercy Corps pre-deployed to Atlanta, moving to Charlotte on September 14, and into the storm area September 18 as Florence moved out and some of the roads began to open. Mercy Corps co- located with Team Rubicon for Hurricane Florence response. Initial assessments were conducted in the New Bern area before determining that Mercy Corps’ programming would have the biggest impact in the Lumberton area (Robeson County). Robeson County is one of the most vulnerable counties in the country with nearly 30% of the population living in poverty. Additionally, Lumberton residents were still recovering from severe flooding during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 when Florence made landfall in September 2018.
Mercy Corps’ response focused on the most vulnerable households and people in the greatest need of aid. Based on the results of our assessment, Mercy Corps planned to respond with a mix of critically needed relief items and cash. As of October 19, 2018, more than 10,000 people in Robeson County have registered with FEMA.
1,300 solar lamps were distributed between September 20 – October 11, 2018. The lanterns were donated to local agencies or partners that would then distributed them to first responders and vulnerable households. Lamps benefitted on average three people per household, and thus a total of 3,900 people benefitted from this generous donation.
Team Rubicon in New Bern planned on distributing the lanterns there to first responders who were without electricity at home, including firefighters and police. In Wilmington, the Team Rubicon team doing muck and gut of households there were staying in a warehouse that had no electricity at the time and were grateful to get the LuminAid lanterns. The team said they were great and were extremely appreciated by the team.
Perhaps the town that most needed solar lanterns, was the town of Havelock. Mayor William Lewis met the Mercy Corps team himself with a pickup truck. The lanterns were quickly loaded into the pickup to be distributed to households without power. The Mayor and his team were very grateful for the donation and told Mercy Corps that out of the 5,000 homes without power in his county, 4,000 of them were in Havelock.
During a call to discuss survivor’s needs with other agencies, Greene Lamp Community Action group in Kinston, NC reached out to Mercy Corps saying that they were in extreme need of the lanterns for distribution within their community. Kinston flooded severely not once, but twice. The second time was over a week after Florence has passed through the area. The Mercy Corps team drove to Kinston, NC to deliver 300 lanterns the following day to Greene Lamp who targeted the most vulnerable families for assistance.
Mercy Corps’ local partner in Lumberton, the Robeson County Disaster Recovery Committee (RCDRC), requested 350 lanterns for distribution to their clients. Team member, Jill Morehead, helped distribute some of the lanterns to RCDRC just before Hurricane Michael passed through the Carolinas and people who were very nervous were extremely grateful to receive the lanterns in preparation for Michael.
In situations where people have been devastated by a natural disaster and have lost access to power, simply having a reliable source of power and a way to stay connected to loved ones and information can be an extremely important comfort and resource to survivors. This was the case in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and people expressed the same desire in North Carolina following Hurricane Florence. Recognizing this importance and the need to have these products quickly, Mercy Corps has prepositioned solar items in a shared humanitarian warehouse in Dubai, and is conducting a public tender to have agreements in place in order to quickly purchase and ship solar lanterns in the early days following a disaster.
How You can Continue to Help
Our readiness to respond to disasters like these and help strengthen communiies for the long term is thanks to the generosity of supporters like you. To support our work now and for the future, please consider making a gift to Mercy Corps.