As both a mom and stepmom, Luisa works hard to not only maintain a business, but to see it grow and expand into new areas so that she can better provide for her family. Two years ago, Luisa started selling rotisserie chicken to go, which gradually turned into a small café restaurant.
Luisa is part of the microloan program with Diaconia, Global Aid Network (GAiN)’s partner in Paraguay. GAiN envisions a world with flourishing communities where people are physically, spiritually and emotionally thriving. Through the program, many women who are living in poverty are given the chance to start or grow their own businesses, become financially independent and free from debt. Women in the program are also put into weekly trust groups with other business owners, where they can encourage and hold each other accountable to pay back their loans.
When Paraguay enforced a strict lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people no longer went out to eat in restaurants and many places began to implement delivery services. Luisa noticed this trend and started selling containers and to-go boxes to the other businesses in her community. Now, her neighbouring small enterprises can purchase the supplies they need from her in bulk.
Luisa is thankful for the support she receives from the other women in her trust group and says it’s nice to be surrounded by other small business owners because they can share advice and support each other.
With her current loan, Luisa will restock her products as delivery services continue to grow. However, her long term goal is to expand her rotisserie chicken business into a buffet restaurant. And while she loves cooking and seeing her business thrive, her true motivation is to sustain her family and provide a better future for their four children.
Earlier this year, Syria entered its 10th year of civil war, just as COVID-19 became a global pandemic.
Since 2013, we have worked with local partners to provide aid and the hope of Jesus to displaced individuals and families whose lives have been forever changed since the war, including 13.1 million in need and 6.6 million internally displaced (UNHCR). Our Bags of Blessings program (distributing bags with a month’s worth of food and non-food items) has helped alleviate some of the financial burdens since inflation and unemployment has made it hard for families to put food on the table.
When COVID hit and restrictions meant that churches were unable to gather in large groups, our faithful partners continued to dedicate their time to visiting families door-to-door. They delivered over 955 Bags of Blessings and 100 Clean Bags (containing basic cleaning and disinfecting supplies) to help raise awareness and prevent the spread of the virus.
Dina A., is a wife and mother of three adult children. She is a member of the local church and started attending when she received Bags of Blessings through the program.
Life before COVID was already hard, but the added impact of the pandemic is causing more stress on her family’s situation.
“My husband is a retired policeman and he isn’t earning much,” Dina explained. “My eldest daughter is 32 years old and is dealing with chronic health issues that require her to be on medication and go to the hospital for regular examinations. My youngest son is 20 and currently in university. My other son is 31 years old but has not completed his education in order to earn more and help us with household expenses.”
Due to inflation, whatever they earn isn’t enough. While life remains difficult for Dina and her family, the Bags of Blessings help make a difference and continue to serve as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.
“I serve God at the church and help package and distribute Bags of Blessings. The Bags touch my heart and fill it with gratitude to the Lord, because He is a good and faithful shepherd. The Bags definitely attract new members to the church and are given according to the need, so that it will be a reason for blessing everyone who takes it with knowledge of how the Lord is good.”
Faddaa S., is another member of the church who first heard about it through the Bags of Blessings program.
“The economic situation at home, because of the general situation and the deteriorating conditions, is below the middle line because of the high cost of living. We live on my salary, which does not exceed $25 dollars (per day),” Fadaa, 46 years old, shared.
“When we heard that the baptist church distributed Bags of Blessings, I began attending. This was the reason we came at the beginning. But then, I became attached to the Word of the Lord and I began to think of the benefits (Bags) as gifts from the Lord Jesus. The Bags have helped lift a large part of our expenses that we used to spend on purchasing food. Now we use that money on other household expenses.”
Families with younger children are finding it difficult to get by. Rana K. is 38 and part of a family of four.
“We can no longer provide for the needs of our children in a healthy and ideal way for their ages,” Rana lamented. “They are in the stage of development.”
Despite the hardships, Rana still has faith.
“The love of the Lord Jesus is beyond our imagination. We find Him with us in every moment of our lives, with joy and pain. We find that the Lord will provide us with our needs at the right time when we are most in need of help. Personally, I do not fear any need because I have an inner peace that my master never leaves me in need. As for the Bag of Blessings, due to the current situation in our country, some people come to the church for the purpose of aid, but when they hear the word of the Lord and enter the minutes of the Lord, you will find them adhere to the word of the Lord and apply it in their lives.”
Just like many other countries, Syria enacted lockdown measures when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Restrictions on gatherings made things difficult for our local partners, who usually host large church gatherings and need to meet with people in order to distribute Bags of Blessings (bags with essential food and non-food items).
Still, they adapted to make it work, including holding bible studies over Zoom and meeting in small groups to share God’s word, as well as distributing Bags of Blessings and cleaning supplies to families door-to-door.
Bags of Blessings have been much-needed since the country’s economic crisis has left many families impoverished. With inflation, the cost of even the most basic food items have become unaffordable for many families. To make sure that people are still getting these essential food and non-food items during the pandemic, our partners made personal door-to-door visits to families, providing them with Bags. This act of kindness, along with intentional love and care, has helped many families make a decision to follow Jesus, and many are now in discipleship groups.
Our partners also distributed Bags of Blessings and Clean Bags (with cleaning products), as well as blankets and bed sheets for the winter, at a local church, taking advantage of the church’s big parking space to ensure proper distancing.
The pastor of the church thanked our partners, saying, “I am very thankful for the help you are granting to our church. These [Bags] are becoming a very good support for their needs, knowing that all the materials (food, detergent, clothes) are very expensive due to the sanction over Syria, and the inflation of the currency (our Lira). For that reason, there is a strong need for our people in Syria in general to be supported and to grant them to and thanks to God for the generous relief program you are doing. This ‘love in action’ is the core of Christianity and the message of real love, which is translated to caring [for] and helping [each other]. And I see through this holy program a strong and good testimony for our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Nadia, who received a Bag at the distribution, wrote a thank you letter, sharing her appreciation: “Thank you and we appreciated so much because you were next [to] us during all these crises and you didn’t leave us at all. You were good support for us by sending food, detergent, blankets, etc. Thank you. Because of you, I understand what it means by Christian family and the church… We learned from you to search in deep in bible and love others from our heart and [care for] and help people like us.”
In the last three months, our partners have been able to reach 300 families, helping 123 make a life-changing decision to become a follower of Jesus, and leading 13 follow up groups.
Global Aid Network (GAiN) sent a DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) to Lesbos, Greece to spend two months at Camp Moria. One of their projects was to rebuild a structure that had burned down in March 2020. Because of a shortage of volunteers, due to COVID-19, the DART team helped rebuild the structure (called Level Two).
Below is a story written by Melinda, a DART member:
As soon as we start working a crowd of kids starts gathering and wants to help. Men and women walk by, either giving us curious looks or asking in, more or less, broken English what we are doing.
“When is it done?”
“We don’t know. A few weeks.”
A few weeks to rebuild two burnt structures in camp.
The fire happened two months ago and a lot of families lost their shelter. The families that lived inside the two isoboxes but also the families living in self-built structures around it. One child lost its life.
Omar*, a 15 year old boy from Afghanistan lives with his mother and siblings only a few meters down from where the fire happened. He tells me that the fire broke out in the morning. An accident. The mother of the little child was standing in the food line to get breakfast for them when the fire started. Her husband was already in Germany and the two of them on their long journey to reunite with him. But the reunion of the father with his little child will never happen. The little one died in the fire.
Omar also tells me that the fire truck couldn’t even make its way to the location. The paths in camp are too narrow for a big fire truck. Women and children were running away from the fire while men were bringing water to extinguish the flames. It is a miracle that the fire was stopped by buckets of water. The trees standing around still have black trunks.
A few families have already built new structures around the burnt skeleton of an isobox. Even though the land is valuable no one has settled inside the left behind ash-black beams. Local NGOs had to fight for that. Now no family has to be told to remove their shelters while we are rebuilding.
“Do you think it is good that we are rebuilding the isoboxes?”
“Yes!” Omar says. “Then families can move here from the jungle,” as the olive groves around the official camp are called. “That’s good. They will even have a shared bathroom and electricity here.”
Omar helps us today scraping off the bubbled paint and soot off the beams. He’s excited to be able to help and also practice his English with us. During lunch a beautiful woman comes and brings us Afghani pastries. Kids and adults tell us thank you for doing the work and rebuilding.
We feel well taken care of.
“Will you be back tomorrow?”
“Yes, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and almost every day from now on until this shelter is finished.”
In addition to rebuilding the burnt structure, the DART team also built an isolation station for potential COVID patients to quarantine, in the event of an outbreak at the camp.
Melinda shared a few thoughts just before the station was about to open:
The isolation station from MSF (Doctors Without Borders) is now officially ready to be opened. As we drop off the last few things for the ‘isolation kits’ every patient will get upon arrival, a group of 15 cleaners is roaming around, sweeping up the last sawdust and picking up the last bits and pieces that show that up.
Until today, this place was a full-on construction site. The electricians fix the last light switches, the water tanks get filled with water, the project manager is on the phone and looks tired, stressed, but still content. While all of this happens, medical personnel get their tours in groups of 15, do a walk through from low risk area to high risk area, walk into the changing rooms and take a look at the wash facilities for the future patients. It feels like a buzzing beehive.
Tomorrow is the opening. And while people are excited that everything seems to be done in time, the hope is that this facility will never have to be used. Or at least never to its full capacity. That only very few of the isolation kits will ever be handed out. The paradox of building a corona isolation facility: putting in so much work under time pressure with the hope and prayer that it will never be needed.
Story and photos by Pau. A. (Written on May 26, 2020)
One of the valuable contributions the DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) is bringing to camp Moria is additional experienced personnel and good quality equipment. This week, from Monday to Wednesday, we are helping our partner EuroRelief to distribute hygiene packs to 2.000 families.
Most of the hygiene packs were donated by UNICEF. We also have refugee volunteers from Team Humanity to translate and give directions to families, while EuroRelief and GAiN are coordinating the distribution. It’s amazing to see four aid organizations come together for such a necessary thing as it is hygiene inside camp.
While the rest of the team is still working on the construction project, Marie-Jose is probably bringing back memories from the DART mission in Iraq as she is taking care of registering and keeping track of the families being helped during the distribution. Meanwhile, Anais is standing under the hot sun guarding the queue and receiving tickets, while showing unconditional love with her big smile and nice conversations, probably without understanding a word. Moreover, our distribution equipment is making things much easier for dealing with the crowds.
“It’s the first time they give me this,” says Farid*, a young Afghan man who arrived at Moria six months ago with his family, “just once they gave us soap, now they are giving us this box, but I don’t know what’s in there.” Every box includes two 10L collapsible water containers, one bucket, 12 soap bars, a self-powered torch, child potty, multipurpose cloths, reusable menstrual pad kits, sanitary pads, a safety whistle, underwear and laundry detergent.
Zahra* is an Afghan woman in her fifties who came five months ago, now living with her husband in a tiny house made of reeds on top of the area called The Jungle. Where she lives “there is no washroom, no facilities, nothing,” therefore they need to walk for a while to reach one. They try to keep clean and take hygiene measures during coronavirus times with the “few” products they have. “Two times they gave us soap,” she recalls, “but the other times we buy it ourselves.” The last time they received soap was “two months ago.”
These families also affirm using only water for washing when they run out of soap and other products. But water is also a big problem inside Moria. “Because now the weather is so hot, every day we should take a shower, but we don’t have (enough) water to do that,” explains Fatimah*, an Afghan teenager raised in Iran who has come to the distribution on behalf of her family. “Because of coronavirus we should wash our hands, but we don’t have water, what should we do?”
Fatimah is so right. Sometimes, Moria camp feels like a never-ending steeplechase race.
*Names changed for security reasons
Story and photos by Pau A.
It was about 8:30 a.m. I was looking for a family nearby when I suddenly stumbled upon one of the most pleasant spots I have been in camp Moria. It was at the heart of camp, but it felt like stepping into a small countryside piece of land. Maybe because of the steep ground and pines around it, or maybe because the structures and paths to this place were so narrow that it made access very hard and it seemed to create a kind of microhabitat which was not as overcrowded and loud as other areas within the compound. Probably that is the reason why Darvish* and Sakine* left The Jungle and moved here with their two sons.
I was taking pictures of these fascinating pallet paths and the hanging houses supported by wooden beams, when Darvish came out of one of them and greeted me with the biggest of smiles. His place looked very nice (if compared to the standards of Moria), half of it was their house, and the other half was a wooden terrace that was kept clean and mostly empty, contrary to most house entrances here.
I asked Darvish with my hands if I could take a picture of his house, and he, also with his hands, replied, “Yes, of course!” When I was done, he again said some words I didn’t understand, but with his gestures and looking at the inside of his house, I knew for sure he was inviting me for breakfast with his family. First I refused, just for being polite, but he didn’t need to insist much before I happily accepted the invitation. This home and the family I had in front of me just brought me good feelings.
Once inside the structure, Sakine and her two boys asked me to sit down and share breakfast with them. It was a nice family breakfast without any hurries, just seating, eating and enjoying the sunny morning. I felt privileged to be part of it.
We ate pita bread that Darvish brought from the distribution, and also bread from the Afghan ovens on Baker Street. Before I could realize, I already had a cup of milk at my right. Sometimes we tried to speak about our countries, football, and other topics with the help of Google Translate. Sometimes the oldest son of about six years old tried to speak the little English he learned in class with me, and then teach it to his father. Sometimes we would just eat, drink and enjoy each other’s company, as if we had known each other for a long time.
I would have stayed there all morning if I could, it just felt so comfortable in the heart of one the most uncomfortable places I have ever been. This kindness and hospitality from many refugee families in camp never ceases to amaze me. I cannot remember any words or specific conversations during our nice and peaceful breakfast. But I will remember the kindness, the smiles, the thankfulness, the warm welcome. Yes, the warm welcome. Kind of ironic when coming from a refugee family in Moria, isn’t it?
This experience made me rediscover that most of the time, words are not needed to express very valuable things in life: kindness, appreciation, acceptance, etc. How much more we should share the love and hope we have received from God in such a way that words are, actually, not that much needed.
* Names changed for security reasons
Story by Angelika S.
There are places you would never choose to call your home. There are lives you would never choose to live. There are destinies you would never choose to experience.
All of these seem to be combined in a place called Camp Moria: 17,000 to 20,000 people crammed together in a place designed for not more than 3000, the smell of decay hanging in the air, overflowing garbage bins everywhere, children playing in the dirt, people queueing up for hours for getting food, taking a bath or getting medical help.
When you take a walk through the camp you can look into thousands of faces, faces that are marked by the traumatic experiences they have survived. The list of these experiences is long: war, armed conflict, violence, civil unrest, starvation, persecution, human loss, loss of belongings and much more. The stories behind these faces may be similar, and yet they are so unique. Every single person in the camp has his or her own story and this story had a personal impact on his or her life. There may be despair, hopelessness, depression, or even anger or aggression.
And this is what the camp reflects at first glance: an atmosphere of darkness, lifelessness, and low aspirations. People’s lives have been torn apart, left with only the debris of their dreams they once wished to live, like a forest burned down by a devastating fire.
Yet, if you have a closer look, you may also see something else. In the midst of all the rubble there are beautiful flowers making their way through the ashes.
Someone has made a tiny, beautiful garden around his hut, paving a path of white stones from the gate to the entrance of his hut.
In the same neighbourhood someone has created an idyllic archway to his hut decorated with plants and flowers.
A small girl dressed like a princess gives you a bright smile when you pass by and wave at her.
A mother is sweeping in front of her home, which is tiny and poor but neat and clean.
A family of six invites you to their home that consists of one single room. They have prepared a “table“ with tea, biscuits, and their national sweets. An atmosphere of love and generosity welcomes you. They are interested in your life, your family and your background. ‘You are always welcome to visit us‘, they tell you as you leave them to continue your walk through the camp.
In the midst of the darkness there is light, in the midst of the rubble of broken dreams there is hope, in the midst of the ashes of torn lives there is beauty. But we have to open our eyes to see this. It may not be visible at first glance or on the surface—it can only be seen when you take a deeper look, when you look beyond the obvious.
This is also true for our own lives. There may be hardships, there may be pain or loss; still it is not our surroundings that determine our lives, but the way we deal with them. We can make the ashes of our lives blossom and bring forth a beauty that cannot be compared with anything else.
Together, we can help provide communities like Moria with food and other necessities during this time, as well as help prevent and slow the spread of COVID.
WILL YOU PARTNER WITH US?
Felipe*, 10 years old, lives in Abai, Paraguay with his parents. When missionaries named Susana and Alejandro visited his grandmother’s home, he learned about the opportunity to go to a nutrition centre, run by Jesus Responde, Global Aid Network’s partner in Paraguay. At the nutrition centre, children from impoverished backgrounds can come weekly, receive nutritious meals, receive tutoring and learn about Jesus.
Before going to the nutrition centre, Felipe disobeyed his parents and showed very little interest in his studies. Despite already being in third grade, he didn’t know how to read or write.
Felipe is now in fourth grade. His mother commented that she has been congratulated by Felipe’s teacher because his behaviour has notably improved. Not only that, but he can now read Bible verses correctly, thanks to the care and attention he has received from the nutrition centre. This has impacted Felipe’s entire family and has opened the door for his parents and grandfather to all receive Christ in their hearts.
Soon, they are expected to take the next step of being baptized.
Susana, the missionary, commented that their church has grown and that they are extending the services they offer at the nutrition centre to provide more meals. Through children like Felipe, we can see how the simple service of providing food can allow encounters with their families and the opportunity to share the love of Christ with them.
*Name has been changed
YOU COULD PROVIDE A NUTRITIOUS MEAL AND MORE FOR A CHILD LIKE FELIPE. WOULD YOU GIVE A GIFT THAT CAN MAKE A LIFE-CHANGING IMPACT ON A CHILD?
Alaa and his wife Walaa are experiencing the economic effects of the Syrian Civil War. With a one-year-old child, Alaa bears the weight of providing for his family as the sole income earner. Working in a garden and earning a measly $50 USD, Alaa felt the constant pressures, and felt depressed knowing that what he was earning was not enough to feed his family. This led Alaa to have suicidal thoughts.
When Alaa met our Syrian partners in Sweida, they invited him to attend the church to receive a Bag of Blessing (a bag distributed monthly by our partners, with essential food and non-food items). When Alaa came to the church and shared his story, our partners made an intentional visit to his family where they saw his situation first hand. The poverty that Alaa’s family lived in was so glaring and undeniable that it shocked our partners.
They spent quality time with the family, who come from a Druze background. Sharing about God’s love and how He does not forget His people, Alaa and Walaa were both touched by the message, deciding soon after to commit their lives to following Jesus.
As Alaa and Walaa walked our Syrian partners back to their car after the visit, they were surprised when they were gifted with a Bag of Blessing. Tears of joy escaped their eyes, thanking the Lord and the church for this blessing that would help alleviate some of their financial burdens each month.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO PROVIDE A BAG OF BLESSING TO A DISPLACED FAMILY IN SYRIA? YOU COULD HELP PROVIDE ESSENTIAL FOOD AND NON-FOOD ITEMS TO THOSE WHO ARE HURTING.
As a supporter of Global Aid Network (GAiN)’s Syrian Refugee Relief program, Raphael knew that he wanted to meet GAiN’s partners in the Middle East, see the work being done in the field and also get involved in a more tangible way. A LIFE Team trip to Lebanon with GAiN was the perfect way to do all of these things.
The trip lasted for two weeks in May, giving the team enough time to serve alongside local in-country partners in a variety of different ways.
Having met GAiN’s Syrian partner at a Syria fundraiser in Toronto, Raphael already had a good understanding of the project, having heard stories about lives that were being impacted by the Bags of Blessings program. So when he decided to go on the trip to Lebanon, he expected to meet the local partners as well as refugees. What he didn’t know was that his expectations would be exceeded.
“We met a lot of local partners who had such big hearts for people in Lebanon [and] Syria and loved these people [with] actions, beyond what we could comprehend,” Raphael said. “It was very humbling to see how they were lifting His name through their services to refugees.”
The team, made up of three other participants, had the chance to meet with six volunteers from Syria who work with GAiN’s Syrian partners in the field. The volunteers shared about the work that is being done in Damascus, the economic hardships of local displaced families, as well as share some of their own personal testimonies.
Overall, the team was able to hear firsthand accounts of life in Syria, and was humbled to hear about the incredible ways that God is changing lives in the midst of a crisis.
“Witnessing the sacrificial and incomprehensible love of the local partners in their ministries was the most astonishing aspect of being on the field,” Raphael expressed. “Similarly, the sheer incomprehensibility of what it means to go through what these refugees went through was weighing on my mind on the field.”
For the rest of the trip, the team spent most of their days at a local church in Beirut, where they helped tutor and teach children from refugee families who have no access to public education. Some members of the team had the opportunity to lead chapel, which included songs, games and Bible lessons.
“I think playing with the refugee children, teaching them English, and leading chapel services were the most tangible demonstration of God’s love. [The kids] were so excited to be with us from day one. As we spent most of our time serving at the school, we could build relationships with the children individually.”
They also had the opportunity to visit the homes of two families of some of the children, spending quality time with them. Unfortunately, due to the timing of the trip being around Ramadan, the team was only able to visit two families, so as not to disturb those families who might have been observing the Muslim holiday. However, Raphael felt that the two family visits they did do was worthwhile and that the families were deeply touched.
“I felt the family visit was a very personal and tangible demonstration of love we could offer to these refugee families.”
Another highlight of the trip was volunteering at a medical clinic that was hosted by the church. Refugees were welcome to come in to get checked by a doctor and were given a diagnosis and free medication as needed. The team was able to help in different roles, such as triaging patients, taking medical history and vital signs, dispensing medication, praying for patients and spending time with kids who came with their moms to be at the clinic.
Other days were spent helping sort clothing items at the local partner’s used clothing store, which sells clothes and other items at a discounted price to refugee families in need. One day, they went to a large storage warehouse and helped distribute food and household items to refugees from Iraq and Syria and ended up handing out 81 bags, providing families with much-needed essentials.
For Raphael, all of these opportunities to be present and serve refugees has made a significant impact on his life.
“I witnessed that it is possible to serve God and people so boldly as these local partners do. It will be my struggle to live out the same spirit in my own context and place. The trip has helped me to better grasp the interconnectedness of the supporters on the other side of the world and the local staff and partners on the field. In other words, I tangibly experienced that all followers of Christ do, indeed, belong to one body. In places where I never visited and barely thought of, the Spirit was working so powerfully and mightily, and continually will. With these experiences, not only in my financial giving, but also in my prayers, it has become more global.”
ARE YOU INTERESTED IN GOING ON A LIFE TEAM TRIP IN 2020? VIEW OUR UPCOMING TRIPS TO SEE IF THERE IS A TRIP FOR YOU.