Even in the land of sunshine, it rains. In Lebanon approximately four months out of the year temperatures drop to below freezing and sunny skies give way to torrents of relentless rain. Bad news for those living in homes without heat and only sporadic electricity. Even worse for those living in tents or makeshift shelters that seem to flood every other day. One father who fled from Syria with his family, reported hugging his two boys at night to shield them from the cold. They slept on the concrete floor without mattresses or blankets, escaping the bombardment of shells and barrel bombs only to be pounded by bullets of rain crashing against the tin roof of their shack. They live in Naba’a, one of the most congested neighborhoods of Beirut- a swamp converted into an urban slum back in the early 1900s. In the winter, the streets run like rivers and housewives pray for a respite of sunlight to hang out their dampened mattresses to dry.
It is to regions like Naba’a, to families like this Syrian father and his two young boys, that LSESD was able to provide mattresses, blankets and stoves this past winter with funding from the New Zealand Government, in partnership with Tearfund New Zealand. Through the generosity of the people of New Zealand, Syrian refugee families in the regions of the Bekaa Valley, the North, the Chouf and parts of Beirut were supplied with the basic necessities that they desperately needed to survive the cold winter months. With this funding, LSESD’s community partners were able to procure and distribute 4,751 blankets, 2,575 mattresses, and 526 stoves. Additionally, 475 families received fuel vouchers to keep their stoves running in the cold winter months, as most would not have been able to otherwise afford to do so. Another essential need covered by the project was potable drinking water, as the majority of Syrian families have resorted to drinking tap water, which has an extremely high sediment content and is reported to cause health problems such as diarrhea and kidney stones. Due to exorbitant rent prices that even those residing in tents and informal shelters must pay, many Syrian refugee households are barely able to provide their families with adequate food, let alone clean drinking water. This challenge is exacerbated in winter months by the ebb in the job market, as most wage-earners are only able to find employment in seasonal construction or agricultural day labor. Thus, in addition to the monthly food aid that LSESD continues to supply through prior funding, the project also provided water filters to 400 families.
Overall the winterization intervention served to impact over 2000 vulnerable Syrian families, benefitting around 12,000 individuals. While many thankful families could attest to the positive impact of this initiative, the needs are still great. The father in Naba’a was provided with two mattresses to sleep on and three thick blankets to aid against the cold, yet he still reported sleeping without a blanket after the distribution. Why? He chose to give one of the blankets to his wife, and one to each of his boys. The situation of well over 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon remains dire, and in many ways is deteriorating over time. Those who fled to Lebanon have been forced to sell what little they were able to carry with them to cover their living costs- many report selling wedding rings and articles of clothing just to survive. Most are accumulating massive amounts of debt due to rent prices, medical bills, and even something as basic as a trip to the grocery store. Moreover, while Lebanon is now entering its peak of summer heat, it’s only a matter of time until the clouds roll in again and these same families are forced to hunker down to face another harsh winter. “My children and I fled to Lebanon in the summer,” recalled one Syrian mother, “the first time it rained we all cried. We hadn’t brought anything with us for winter. We didn’t think that we would have to stay here this long.” Doubtless, few families imagined when they first fled to find refuge in a foreign land that they would have to survive one winter away from home, let alone two. Yet as the Syrian crisis rages on unabated, this nightmare is to them, almost a certainty. Will we continue to stand with the Syrian people in their time of greatest suffering and need? Such a prolonged crisis calls for persevering compassion. May God grant us all strength.