Guest blog by Pam W., Two-Time Lebanon LIFE Team Participant
Geopolitical crises and wars have become typical news items. Following the coverage of the war in Syria, the images of casualties rattled me, but they were just news. In 2017, I joined GAiN on its first LIFE team mission to Lebanon to serve alongside a local partner working with refugees in Beirut. While there, I visited the Bekaa Valley, an area of farmland near the Syrian border that is now filled with a multitude of makeshift tents. The valley has become “home” to Syrians who fled their war-torn country.
We hear a lot about the war and refugees from Syria, but not so much about the Syrians displaced within their own country – and there are many. Some had to flee their bomb-stricken homes, along with any surviving family members, with only the clothes on their back. While in Lebanon, I met Syrian aid workers from GAiN’s local partner who provide both physical (food distribution) and emotional support to these Internally Displaced People (IDP). They shared accounts of the experiences of IDPs, and also some of their own. One aid worker shared her own chilling account of escaping armed groups. These experiences are unlike those reported in the media. They are painfully detailed and personal.
After returning home, news from Syria was no longer just news to me. Now I had friends living there – and that changed everything. With the war into its seventh year, local Syrians were surviving with limited resources and diminishing hope, and they are feeling forgotten.
I needed to do something….
I felt it was important that I share their stories so the world could relate to them on a personal level. I also launched a GAiN campaign and fundraised for 100 Bags of Blessing. Each bag provides food for a family of five for a month. These bags are vital to IDPs in Syria who struggle on a daily basis for even the most basic of necessities. The campaign enables sponsors to support the IDPs in Syria in a direct way, but it also helps to restore their hope and reminds them that they have not been forgotten and are loved.
Returning to Lebanon in 2018, there was a sense of familiarity. Reconnecting with the staff of GAiN’s local partner and the refugee children was like visiting relatives; no introduction was necessary. For me, the highlight was spending time with the aid workers from Syria. I feel my GAiN campaign brought me closer to them. There were a few familiar faces from my first visit, but I felt a sense of closeness with all of them. They were like family. I am humbled by the tenacity of these aid workers, the silent heroes that the world will never know.
Hearing stories about those who received the Bags of Blessing was like a sequel to my fundraising campaign, following the journey of these bags into the hands of specific recipients. Without this food distribution, these people wouldn’t have had enough to eat.
Returning home this time, I am not just telling stories. I am sharing about the lives of people who now have a special place in my life. Continued support of IDPs in Syria through programs such as the Bags of Blessing program is still very much needed. Most importantly, I hope to cultivate a connection between them and the rest of the world by sharing their personal testimonies gathered during my LIFE team experiences.
Like the song says: “We are the world…We’re all part of God’s great big family…we’ll make a brighter day…Just you and me.”
Whether it is getting to know the refugees in our neighbourhood or joining GAiN’s LIFE team in Lebanon and meeting them locally, the encounter is life-changing. They will no longer be just news stories but personal acquaintances, and for me, like family!