Aisha Ahmed and Suzanne Abdulhadi’s first day in Lebanon sees them teaching children at a school, visiting a refugee camp and witnessing first-hand the conditions Syrian refugees have and continue to endure.
At 8am, we set out for our first visit of the tour. Driving out of Beirut, we pass along the coast, looking out at the sea we are awed by its immensity.
The three hour drive took us away from the Mediterranean coast, towards the north-east mountainous region, to a town called Aarsal. Close to the Syrian border, this town has now become home to thousands of Syrian refugees.
Our first visit was to the Awareness and Consolation Association (ACA) office for a brief on the itinerary for the day. The ACA is a Lebanese NGO and is Muslim Charity's partner on the ground. Here we assembled and packed winter aid boxes containing food, the distribution of these boxes will take place tomorrow.
Our next stop was to visit a school supported by ACA and Muslim Charity. As we walked up to the courtyard, a beautiful crowd of children welcomed us with smiles and curiosity. At first a little shy, they quickly warmed to us; talking, laughing, singing and playing with us and our team members. We were introduced to the head of the school who explained that the school was fairly new, only three years old. We were shown to the computer lab which was freshly painted and still being renovated. Here we met with some children who had never used a computer before. We gave them a lesson in using the mouse and keyboard and how to use Microsoft Word. These bright, joyful children learned very quickly and were eager to carry on learning even after we had to leave.
Aisha and Suzanne visit a school supported by ACA and Muslim Charity
On the way out of the building, the afternoon school classes were gathering. These amazing children, all smiling and laughing, recited to us the numbers, days of the week and months in French, eager to impress us – they beamed with pride when we showed our amazement and how impressed we were. As we left, the school, the children came running for goodbye hugs and waved us off until our cars were out of sight.
A view of the refugee camp
400 refugees live here
A storeroom containing essential resources
We drove on to a camp housing around 400 refugees. A quiet place in the mountains with mounds of snow still dotted around following the January storms. Once again we were welcomed with warm smiles.
The camp sits in the mountains close to the Syrian border
The refugees told us of their journeys from Syria, gesturing towards the mountains behind them which they crossed. Mothers told us of the sons they lost in the conflict; we were introduced to orphans whose grandparents had carried them to safety and were told about the lives and families they left behind. Although they spoke with courage and strength, the pain could be seen in their eyes. We met with children born in the camps, innocent faces not knowing any home other than the temporary tents they live in.
Aisha and Suzanne met many refugee children
The grace and strength of these families was humbling. We were invited into every ‘house’ we passed and served tea, coffee, fruit and cake. The little that these Syrians had they were eager to share with us. Their hospitality, generosity and smiles remain intact even when their dreams for themselves and their children may not.
The homes we visited were small, temporary structures. Sheets of tarp made up the walls and roof, car tyres and boxes of rocks holding the roofs in place. We heard how many of these roofs collapsed or blew away in the snow storms, exposing families to the bitter cold and harsh outdoors. Inside, the toilet comprised of a hole in the ground less than three feet away from the kitchen area where food is kept. The sleeping area is a small room around 20 square feet separated from the toilet by only a makeshift curtain. A few mattresses were on the floor used during the day to sit on and at night to sleep on.
The camp is made up of small temporary structures
We discovered with shock that these camps are established on privately owned land and that the landowners charge rent for each tent! We asked the families how they can afford to pay rent and were told of the monthly allowance of $27 per person that they receive from UNICEF. In addition, many refugees try to buy and sell vegetables to make some extra money. In one room we saw a row of toys next to a small stack of books and a copy of the Qur'an. On the walls are hang drawings made by the children in pencil.
We leave the camps with heavy hearts and drive back towards the capital. As we re-enter Beirut we once again take in the view of the sea; the immensity that awed us this morning pales in comparison to the immensity of the plight of the Syrians we met today.
Aisha and Suzanne leave the camps with heavy hearts
Solicitor Aisha Ahmed
and trainee solicitor Suzanne Abdulhadi
both from Duncan Lewis’ Immigration Department are travelling to Lebanon with the UK charity; Muslim Charity
to take part in the One Ummah Tour.
The conflict in Syria has seen millions of refugees displaced in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Greece, Jordan and other European countries. Muslim Charity has been supporting Syrian refugees through emergency food, medical aid, supporting orphans, widows, schools and hospitals ever since the conflict began.
If you would like to make a donation, please visit Aisha and Suzanne’s page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/aisha-and-suzanne