Help Strengthen the Resilience of Syrian Refugees

by Concern Worldwide US
Help Strengthen the Resilience of Syrian Refugees
Help Strengthen the Resilience of Syrian Refugees
Help Strengthen the Resilience of Syrian Refugees
Help Strengthen the Resilience of Syrian Refugees
Help Strengthen the Resilience of Syrian Refugees
Help Strengthen the Resilience of Syrian Refugees
Help Strengthen the Resilience of Syrian Refugees
Help Strengthen the Resilience of Syrian Refugees
Concern staff volunteering with clean-up in Beirut
Concern staff volunteering with clean-up in Beirut

Concern Worldwide UK’s Tania Khalil was in her hometown in Lebanon on the day of the 2020 Beirut port explosion. One year later, we share her account of how that day changed her life with you, a generous supporter of our vital work with in the region. Your gift strengthened Concern’s ability to help vulnerable communities in Lebanon in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy and continues to do so to this day.

***

I started working with Concern Worldwide UK in February 2020 as part of their Major Donor team in the London office. I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to visit Concern’s programs in northern Lebanon before starting my role in London. Seeing the work firsthand was a transformative experience, one that made all the difference in my commitment to join Concern’s global movement to end extreme poverty.

However, just a month into my new position, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened in the UK, forcing us all into lockdown and working from home. Being Lebanese and having grown up in Beirut, I flew back to work from there. A few months went by, and as my work as a fundraiser continued I could see how vital it was to raise funds for Concern to deliver life-changing programs amid the impacts of COVID.

On August 4, 2020, my life as I knew it changed forever. My family and I were caught up in the world’s biggest non-nuclear blast ever recorded. I am grateful to be at my desk today, as many of my friends are in intensive care in hospital and may not live to tell their story.

THE DAY OF THE BEIRUT PORT EXPLOSION

I was working with my colleague in a café in Beirut; an ancient city scarred by war, but one that is vibrant, welcoming, and full of life. Around 5:40 pm, I ordered an Uber to meet my father for a sunset drink by the sea. Upon arrival, I tipped the driver. He smiled, thanked me on behalf of his young ones, and off he went.

As I walked towards the sea, I spotted my father. All of a sudden, I heard the sound of an aircraft rushing towards us — VRRRRRRR. This was not like a passenger plane flying overhead, but much closer, much faster. The ground beneath me started to shake and I screamed, “It’s an earthquake!” A woman next to me pulled her daughter out from the water and screamed “Its war!”

I heard a BOOM and fell to the ground as a pink mushroom cloud began spreading above me, eating the city alive. Memories of a double-bomb I barely survived in 2008 resurfaced. Around me, shattered glass was flying from neighboring buildings, children were in tears, and my father was panicking about my brother’s whereabouts. But all I could think about was my mom, and that this was the end. I could feel it in my gut; an overwhelming feeling of acceptance washed over me, and I said a little prayer. Everyone around me was panicking, but I felt more peaceful in comparison.

I picked up my broken phone and sent my mom a voice memo, thinking that she was away from the blast: “Mom, I’m safe, I’m safe. Are you?”

For 45 minutes, I did not hear from her. I called home, no answer. People around us were terrified to move, and terrified to stay. There we were, the famously resilient Lebanese people caught in yet another injustice. Once I was able to connect to the internet and follow the news, it became clear that where I was standing made the difference between life and death.

Mom finally answered the phone; she was being carried home and a doctor was on his way to attend to her injuries (small particles of shattered glass under her skin, particularly around her legs, feet, and hands because she fell to the floor during the blast). I was not to worry. Thankfully, all my family survived and were ok. However, the following day, my mom buried her best friend.

ALIVE FOR A REASON

Some people say they escaped death, but I feel like it was death that escaped me. If I am alive today, it is for a reason. As a 29-year-old Lebanese woman, I survived this.

In 2005, while on my way back from a school trip, I survived the blast that brought Lebanon to its knees. In 2006, I survived a war that destroyed my country, and fled to neighboring Syria for shelter.

In the years to follow, I survived a series of bombings and assassinations that killed many people in Lebanon. It seems to me that, if you are Lebanese and alive today, it is for a reason.

By working with Concern, I can make a difference to those that have also been affected by tragedies such as this, as well as other humanitarian crises across the world. Concern is responding to the explosion, handing out shelter and dignity kits to families affected, and has launched an appeal to raise more money so that we can reach more people.

Being there on the ground, I can tell you that the team in Lebanon haven’t had a moment of rest since the blast, working around the clock to ensure that no home, and no person, is left without essentials. I want to show respect and appreciation for my colleagues in Lebanon.

I may not know the reason I am alive today; but what I do know is that life is short, and it is what you make of the time you have on this earth that really matters. Help someone in need every single day.

CONCERN IN LEBANON TODAY

Following the August 2020 Beirut port explosion, Concern Lebanon team members responded as Tania describes above. However the blast is just one of the many recent events in Lebanon that have left the country in a very complex situation that could threaten to become a deeper crisis.

“The economic crisis, currency devaluation, and associated high inflation; and massive vulnerability among Lebanese populations coupled with the protection needs of Syrian refugees and migrant workers has created a very complex and challenging environment in which to operate,” explained country director Anita Shah in March of this year. Concern is responding to the furthest behind in Lebanon, both in host communities and among refugee settlements, with psychosocial and livelihood support, health and hygiene programs to slow the spread of COVID-19, and by expanding access to quality education.

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A refugee child in Lebanon (photo: Crystal Wells)
A refugee child in Lebanon (photo: Crystal Wells)

This year marks the tenth anniversary of a crisis in Syria brought on by conflict, mass displacement, civilian casualties, the destruction of infrastructure, and other violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws. While many Syrians wish to return home, the road to getting there is less certain in 2021 than it was at the beginning of the crisis. 

Estimates in 2021 indicate that 13.4 million people still living in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance. An additional 5.5 million Syrian refugees are living in host communities, the majority of which are in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. 

Here are some experiences of Syrian refugees from over the last decade, in their own words:

Fatima*, 2018: “I thought we’d be here for just a month. I miss everything. Living in Syria was bounteous. I liked living near my parents and brothers and sisters." 

Concern staff spoke to the mother of four in her makeshift home in an informal tented settlement (ITS) in northern Lebanon. After four failed attempts to escape the violence surrounding their village, they were successful. 

But refuge came at a cost: as of 2018, her husband and parents were still in their village. In Lebanon, Fatima has struggled to pay rent on a shelter that is in disrepair, with broken boards, infestations of cockroaches, limited water, and winters that are brutal and bitter. Unable to afford the tuition prices, her children remained at home, out of school and with little to do but wait. 

Habib*, 2013: “Put yourself in my position: It was because of my family that I came here…In Syria, I was everything…Here, I am nothing.”

Sara*, 2013: “The difference is between heaven and hell.”

When we spoke to Habib, a father of ten, and Sara in 2013, they were neighbors in Lebanon in the basement of an unfinished concrete building with no running water and intermittent electricity. Nearly one in four people living in Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee and while the generosity shown by host communities has been amazing, it is being seriously stretched. The ongoing consequences of the pandemic, Lebanon’s own deepening economic crisis, and last summer’s explosion in Beirut have disproportionately affected these populations.

Many refugees living abroad are unable to find steady work, which has made living conditions like Habib’s the norm rather than the exception for the last decade.

Samer*, 2013: “I won’t go back to school. I have lost my will now after missing it for two years…For my generation and me, the future is not clear.”

Samer was only 14 when the conflict started and he was deprived of one his basic human rights: an education. Most Syrians under the age of 18 have grown up with a normalization of conflict, volatility, poverty, and displacement that will impact them for the rest of their lives.

Ahmed*, 2018: “It is so difficult for a person accustomed to the culture and society where I was living to just leave everything and get out…But it was like something imposed on us…I wish I had met you in Syria when we had a normal life there. You would come to Syria as tourists and have fun there, and I would host you at my house.”

Concern spoke with Ahmed from a tent he shared with his family. For nearly 20 million Syrians, the last decade has effectively been lost. The stress of living in this situation is almost unimaginable, but there really is no alternative. Still, Ahmed like many of his compatriots, also maintain hope for a better future and an ingrained sense of Syrian hospitality.

.....

While these interviews present insight into the individual stories Concern teams have witnessed and heard over the course of the Syrian conflict, the devastating truth is that they all sound remarkably similar. This underscores the lack of progress on the part of the international community to work towards a lasting peaceful solution and a safe path for those who wish to return.

With help from supporters like you, Concern has been meeting the emergency needs of Syrian refugees – usually in as little as two days for assessment and distribution – and helping them build long-term resilience. From blankets, shelter kits, and food vouchers to gender-based violence prevention, education access, and rehabilitating water systems, Concern programs strive to support refugees holistically. Thank you for making this essential work possible.

 

*All names changed for security purposes.

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Jasem with Concern staff. Photo: Concern Worldwide
Jasem with Concern staff. Photo: Concern Worldwide

When Syrian refugee and father of five Jasem* arrived in Turkey in 2017, life was difficult. He and his young family of six, with his eldest who was nine years of age, were sharing a house with their extended family. It took him a full year to find a job and the support needed as they settled. In those early days as refugees, Jasem admits that he was not coping well with life’s forced changes.

“I wasn’t treating my wife and children well—I was hitting my children due to my own financial and psychological situation.”

Jasem became a daily worker, sometimes working in agriculture or in the local market, taking whatever irregular job was offered to him. His two oldest girls worked with their father and therefore did not attend school regularly. Staff in the local Concern community center became aware of the family’s challenges and began to work with them on a program that offers cash in exchange for children’s participation in education and psychosocial support.

Central to Concern’s holistic approach to meet the psychosocial needs of vulnerable refugee families is the Caregiver Engagement approach. It empowers parents and guardians to provide a positive learning environment at home for their children and helps them support their children’s wellbeing and development. The 10-week program provides a platform for caregivers to discuss the challenges and the achievements of raising their children.

In the Caregiver Engagement program, participants discuss a wide variety of topics, participate in role plays, watch videos and engage in interactive group work. Concern facilitators, who live and work in the same neighborhoods as the participants, provide a safe space for participants to share experiences, ask questions, try out new strategies, and explore new ideas. These sessions are open to all refugees and are offered around participants’ schedules, including evening and weekend hours. Depending on what is most convenient for participants, sessions are offered in the community centers or in their homes. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, sessions are facilitated remotely via WhatsApp.  

Jasem initially got involved with the program after his eldest daughter asked him to participate. Although he was reluctant to attend at the start, Jasem enjoyed the group discussions where participants shared their opinions and experiences.

“The facilitators respected us, treated us with dignity, and dealt with us as equals. They had humility. We felt that we were one family who exchanged ideas and advice with each other.” 

After participating in many CGE sessions, Jasem found new and positive ways to express himself and manage his anger. 

“I used to spend my time out playing cards with my friends—matters of no importance. Now I spend all my time at home with my children. I know how to take care of my children and my wife. All of this had an impact on their education level, which started to improve.”

The most important Caregiver Engagement sessions for Jasem were those about adolescents, their wellbeing and development. He learned about adolescents’ personalities, how to deal with teenagers, how parents can build trust and empathy with their teenage children and how to exercise self-control. 

“I learned how to manage my anger. I was ignorant of the concept of positive parenting. Now, my hope for my family is that we live happily ever after. I want us to be able to adapt to any challenges that arise.”

*Names changed for safety and security reasons.

Jasem participates in Caregiver Engagement/Concern
Jasem participates in Caregiver Engagement/Concern
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Women and children too often bear the brunt of poverty around the world. Concern knows we can’t address extreme poverty without focusing on their needs. The following experience of a Syrian refugee family exemplifies the kind of life-changing work your support makes possible.

A Path to Safety and Stability

Some three billion people worldwide live on less than $2.50 a day, and 70 percent of them are women. Millions of women also face discrimination and abuse, and are denied access to education and economic opportunities.

Fatma* is a 32-year-old mother of five who has experienced all of these hardships in her young life. She never attended school growing up in Syria and married at a young age, having her first child at 18. The conflict forced Fatma, her children and husband to flee their home to start a new life in Turkey. During this time, Fatma was dealing with physical violence from her husband and psychological abuse from her brothers.

Fatma’s husband decided to move back to Syria and cancelled the temporary protection registration of the whole family, which allows them to receive financial assistance and access health care and education. Fatma decided to stay in Turkey with her children for safety, leaving her vulnerable and fending for the family alone.

Fatma’s neighbor connected her to Concern’s local Protection Hub, where she attended sessions on positive parenting and early marriage and connected with a legal counsellor for one-on-one support.

After sharing her story, Fatma started receiving support from Concern’s Protection Programme. Concern helped Fatma and her children reactive their temporary protection registration and find a safe place to live, paying three months of rent to help them to get on their feet. Household items such as mattresses, blankets, pillows, and a heater were also provided by Concern, as well as supermarket gift cards to buy food. For the first time, Fatma started to work and found a job selling vegetables.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has now temporarily suspended her employment so Concern has provided another three months of rent to ensure Fatma and her family are kept safe.

Empowering the Next Generation

Vulnerable children also need extra help to survive and thrive. Education is a basic human right and one so often denied to displaced children. It is critically important to breaking inter-generational cycles of poverty.

Fatma’s eldest child, a 12-year-old-boy, felt it was his duty to work in a small shop to support his mother and siblings after his father left. He is now taking part in Concern’s Education Fighting Child Labour Programme, and receives a monthly financial stipend to ensure the family meets its basic needs while he remains in school.

All of Fatma's 5 children are now enrolled at school, attending classes remotely during the pandemic.

Fatma and her children’s new life is completely unrecognizable from the way they was living mere months ago.

In her own words, “The circumstances that I experienced had made my life hell. However, I now have started to love life and to devote more attention to my children. Since I found Concern, I have experienced different paths to goodness and peace of mind.”

 

*For safety and security reasons, we have changed Fatma's name and did not show her or her family's faces.

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Providing COVID-19 info in Lebanon. Concern, 2020.
Providing COVID-19 info in Lebanon. Concern, 2020.

Uncertainty and instability are two things that many communities in the Middle East are well used to, having endured years of war and conflict.

Prolonged fighting in countries like Syria, and resulting the influx of refugees in Lebanon and Turkey, have limited capacity at every level – with health infrastructure particularly strained. COVID-19 has now presented yet another challenge and is putting increasing pressure on already struggling populations.

In Lebanon, there have been 721 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths as of April 30 – with the first diagnosis within a refugee camp raising significant concern over the potential for the infection to spread. In Turkey, as of April 30, there are 118,000 confirmed cases with over 3,000 deaths.

With limited testing facilities, there are growing concerns that the actual figure of confirmed COVID-19 cases is much higher.

Concern is responding quickly. In Syria, our teams have worked with local vendors to allow beneficiaries to purchase both food and hygiene products with vouchers provided by Concern. We are also distributing over 20,000 hygiene kits and food baskets to vulnerable people in camps, informal settlements, collective centers, and urban areas.

In Lebanon, the first COVID-19 case was recorded in a refugee camp in late April. With little access to lifesaving health care and not physically being able to practice safe social distancing, refugees are particularly at risk. Concern’s teams are working to contain the virus amongst Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities by distributing hygiene kits to refugees and essential leaflets on how to keep safe from COVID-19, reaching 4,000 individuals so far. We have also just finished the rehabilitation of a 50-room disused school as an isolation facility for suspected COVID-19 cases.

Further, we are strengthening remote case management work, which supports survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, child protection, and intimate partner violence – all of which are on the rise due to the extended lockdown. To better assist those that need our help, our teams have set-up a 24/7 hotline for psychological support.

According to Concern’s Case Management Officer in Lebanon, Siba Bizri, “the hotline is open 24/7 for regular calls. However, in times of emergency, Concern also activates WhatsApp phone calls, messages, and video calls.”

In Turkey, our team is providing urgent protection and case management support to vulnerable Syrian refugees. This includes the provision of urgent shelter support, cash support for food (in the form of shopping cards), basic household items (mattress, kitchen items, etc.), and emergency transportation.

Concern’s staff is also adapting and piloting online training sessions to caregivers of children on measures to take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Preparations for distributing 3,575 hygiene kits with soap, shampoo, and anti-bacterial surface cleaners to vulnerable families are also underway.

This is just the beginning of our response, and there is still much more work that needs to be done. We know that now more than ever, quick responsive and preventative measures are essential if we are to beat the spread of COVID-19, and that is exactly what we plan on doing.

Thank you for your continued support.

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Concern Worldwide US

Location: New York, NY - USA
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Hannah Mack
New York, NY United States
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