When you see Riad* interacting with refugees, you can’t help but be impressed. He makes them laugh, he listens to them and he helps them. They trust and respect him.
Riad is just one small part of the Church’s response to the refugee crisis but he almost feels indispensable. And therein lies a problem. The demands Riad faces, the huge needs of refugees, comes at a cost, mostly to time spent with his family. His free time at weekends, evenings and days off often becomes dedicated to the ministry.
He is not the only one. Care-givers in Lebanon and Syria have given their all to helping the displaced. It has become all-consuming. As the Syrian war enters its seventh year, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Relief workers are becoming exhausted, with some experiencing burnout.
Many are becoming drained and demotivated. “No matter what a care giver is doing, the circumstances are not changing a lot,” says hospital nurse Rita El-Hajj, who recently spoke at a hygiene workshop for refugees, organised by LSESD at a church in the Bekaa valley.
With new refugees arriving, the pressures continue to increase for care-givers. “The more you give, the more there are needs,” says Rita. “The more you care for, you will always find new people asking for more. It isn’t easy. Sometimes supplies are not enough for everybody. We sometimes feel guilty giving to someone and not being able to give to another.”
In 2015, the Global Development Professional Network (GDPN) reported that 79% of 754 aid workers surveyed, had experienced mental health issues, with 93% stating that these were related to their work in the aid industry. Over half were diagnosed with anxiety and 44% with depression.
To respond to this crisis amongst care-givers, LSESD’s MERATH held two training events to help pastors and leaders in Syria and Lebanon reduce the risk of staff suffering issues like burnout, secondary trauma, and post-traumatic stress. The training also covered trauma counselling so care-givers could be better equipped to respond to the emotional needs of refugees and internally displaced people; those who are suffering and experiencing various kinds of trauma in their lives due to the war. It was led by two specialists in providing conflict transformation skills utilizing experiential education methodologies.
It is hoped that the training will have helped participants become more aware of the issues that cause them stress and learn ways to address the root causes. A Syrian pastor stated, “I needed to learn more about the strategies I can use to help others, and I have received that during this training.”
A Lebanese leader commented, “All the problems that were brought up in this training are issues we face in our ministry. We learned how to deal with those issues, we got solutions that are helpful and useful in assisting others as well as ourselves. The games were also helpful in trying to figure out solutions ourselves.”
Self-care and working together as a team was tackled on the second day of the training. The workshop format allowed participants to come up with ideas and practical solutions for self-care that are more feasible and suitable for them. One participant stated, “The topic was important and allowed us to know how to renew our strength so we are able to continue in the ministries we are doing, as well as learn how to divide up tasks among the team in order to achieve better results.”
From the feedback received, participants clearly communicated that they will make sure to be more caring of themselves, their health, their families, and their psychological well-being. The training gave examples such as exercising, reading, spending time with loved ones, meditating or praying, among others, as relevant solutions.
Please pray for all those LSESD/MERATH is supporting in the local church in Lebanon and Syria, that they will feel better supported and equipped to handle the stresses of serving the displaced and traumatized from the Syrian war.