Syria: Half of Refugees Being Served Are Children

Caritas staff play with Syrian refugee children at the Zarqa Caritas Centre, in Zarqa, Jordan. Catholic Relief Services is supporting Caritas Jordan to help more than 140,000 Syrian refugees across the country.   Photo by Andrew McConnell for CRS

Caritas staff play with Syrian refugee children at the Zarqa Caritas Centre, in Zarqa, Jordan. Catholic Relief Services is supporting Caritas Jordan to help more than 140,000 Syrian refugees across the country. Photo by Andrew McConnell for CRS

In Syria, once the most stable country in the Arab world, civil war rages on. An estimated 6 million Syrians have been uprooted from their homes. More than 2.5 million people have poured into Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and neighboring countries. With women and children making up at least 70 percent of the refugees, the needs of children—many of whom are traumatized—are paramount.

Context
The Syrian civil war has entered its fourth year. With no end in sight, CRS continues to help Syrian refugees forced to flee their homes for the safety of neighboring countries. Once a vibrant hub of Middle Eastern culture and history, Syria has been besieged by a violent civil war that has killed more than 120,000 people and left millions of families displaced and destitute. donate-nowAn estimated 2.5 million Syrians have fled across the border into Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and, more recently, Armenia and Bulgaria. Given that children make up half of the refugee population, the needs for their care, education and counseling are especially urgent.

CRS Commitment
Since the outset of the crisis 3 years ago, CRS has been working with dedicated Catholic partners across the region to provide critical medical assistance, food, hygiene and living supplies, counseling and education for children. Our teams continue to expand and adapt our programs, services and reach to the growing, and moving, population.

Impact to Date
CRS and our partners have assisted 250,000 war-affected Syrians with shelter assistance, winterized materials, food support, medical care, education for children and trauma counseling. Our health clinics are serving thousands, treating everything from life-threatening wounds to chronic illnesses. Our education programs are now serving 10,000 children, and counseling services are expanding to support not only children and women, but also couples. In Lebanon, we have completed a groundbreaking ecumenical program that brings young people of diverse faiths together to assist refugees. In Iraq, Egypt, Armenia and Bulgaria, we continue to scale up efforts to meet the growing influx of refugees.

Priorities
Shelter and rent assistance: Monthly stipends and shelter assistance help families cover basic shelter needs, including paying for rent, and mitigate homelessness and squatting.

Food: Distributions of food feed hungry families. Where food is available locally, CRS provides cash and vouchers for people to purchase what they need. This keeps shop owners in business and injects cash into the economy.

Living supplies: Given that most refugees have nothing when they arrive, prepackaged relief kits equip new refugees with vital essentials like blankets and bedding, stoves, buckets, plates and utensils.

Hygiene and sanitation: Hygiene and sanitation helps prevent waterborne diseases that occur in crowded conditions. We provide families with soap, laundry detergent, diapers, sanitary napkins and other supplies to keep them healthy.

Medical assistance: Our medical care support includes immediate care for life-threatening wounds, as well as treatment for chronic diseases like diabetes. Given the demographics of refugees, care for pregnant women, new mothers and newborns are priorities. We are working to open more primary care clinics to serve the growing population.

Education, support and trauma counseling for children: CRS is supporting education, tutoring, recreational activities and trauma counseling for children. We are providing informal school classes—including educational materials, desks, chairs and teacher support—social and educational activities to keep children safe, and trauma counseling.

Syria: Urgent Care for Refugee Families and Children

MG9715.jpg

Hammoudi, 7, and his friend Khal, 6, stand in an informal refugee settlement in Qab Elias in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Khal and his family fled to Lebanon hundreds of kilometers from their home in Hassakah near to Syria’s northern border after their home was destroyed in an airstrike. Fighting between Kurdish groups and Turkish troops prevented a safe passage to nearby Turkey. There is no electricity at the camp and water has to be drawn by hand from a well. Families here have received critical food, shelter support and living supplies from Catholic Relief Services and our partner, Caritas Lebanon. (Sam Tarling for CRS)

In Syria, once the most stable country in the Arab world, civil war rages on as peace talks are slow to reach resolution in Geneva. An estimated 6 million Syrians have been uprooted from their homes. More than 2.5 million people have poured into Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and neighboring countries. With women and children making up at least 70 percent of the refugees, the needs of children—many of whom are traumatized—are paramount.

Context
donate-nowIntense fighting in Syria over the past 2 months has led to an influx of refugees and strained conditions for CRS’ Church partners and beneficiaries throughout the region. Still, the heroic work of local Catholic agencies continues.

Once a vibrant hub of Middle Eastern culture and history, Syria has been besieged by a violent civil war that has killed more than 120,000 people and left millions of families displaced and destitute. An estimated 2.5 million Syrians have fled across the border into Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and, more recently, Armenia and Bulgaria. Given that children make up half of the refugee population, the needs for their care, education and counseling are especially urgent.

CRS Commitment
Since the outset of this crisis nearly 3 years ago, CRS has been working with dedicated Catholic partners across the region to provide critical medical assistance, food, hygiene and living supplies, counseling and children’s education.

Impact to Date
CRS and its partners have assisted 250,000 war-affected Syrians with shelter assistance, winterized materials, food support, medical care, education for children and trauma counseling. Our health clinics are serving thousands, treating everything from life-threatening wounds to chronic illnesses. In Jordan, our education programs for Syrian children are so successful that we are piloting the first conflict-sensitive education training in the country.

In Lebanon, we have completed a groundbreaking ecumenical program that brings Catholic and Orthodox young people together to assist refugees. In Iraq, Egypt, Armenia and Bulgaria, we continue to scale up efforts to meet the growing influx of refugees.

Priorities
Shelter and rent assistance: Monthly stipends and shelter assistance help families cover basic shelter needs, including paying for rent, and mitigate homelessness and squatting.

Food: Distributions of food help feed hungry families. Where food is available in the local markets, CRS provides cash and vouchers for people to purchase what they need. This keeps shop owners in business and injects cash into the economy.

Living supplies: Given that most refugees have nothing when they arrive, prepackaged relief kits equip new refugees with the vital essentials they need, including blankets and bedding, stoves, buckets, and plates and utensils.

Hygiene and sanitation: Hygiene and sanitation helps prevent waterborne diseases that often occur in crowded conditions. We provide families with soap, laundry detergent, diapers, sanitary napkins and other supplies to keep them healthy.

Medical assistance: Our medical care support includes immediate interventions for life-threatening wounds, as well as treatment for chronic diseases like diabetes. Given the demographics of refugees, providing care for pregnant women, new mothers and newborns are priorities. We are working to open more primary care clinics to serve the growing population.

Children’s education, support and trauma counseling: CRS is supporting education, tutoring, recreational activities and trauma counseling for children. We are providing informal school classes—including educational materials, desks, chairs and teacher support—social and educational activities to keep children safe, and trauma counseling for children.

Stay updated on the latest news from Syria, or subscribe to our newsletter to learn more about Catholic Relief Services’ work around the world.

Syria: Bringing Critical Needs to Refugees

donate-nowAs the civil war in Syria continues, millions of refugees are seeking shelter in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and most recently, Bulgaria and Armenia. This displacement has left children uprooted from their education, families unprepared for the winter and so much more. In each of these countries, Catholic Relief Services and its Catholic Church partners are providing these critical services and needs to families and children.

Amoon, 7, Salam, 5, Yasmine, 6 and a friend play at an informal tented settlement near Deir el Ahmar in the northern Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, on January 14, 2014. The refugees at this camp are supported by local CRS partner the Good Shepherd Sisters, who have provided waterproof covers and concrete flooring for tents and provided stoves and fuel to families.  (Sam Tarling for CRS)

Amoon, 7, Salam, 5, Yasmine, 6 and a friend play at an informal tented settlement near Deir el Ahmar in the northern Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, on January 14, 2014.  The refugees at this camp are supported by local CRS partner the Good Shepherd Sisters, who have provided waterproof covers and concrete flooring for tents and provided stoves and fuel to families. (Sam Tarling for CRS)

Here’s the latest update from Catholic Relief Services staff in the field:

Education
Education programs for Syrian refugee children continue to expand throughout the region. In Egypt, CRS is helping to provide livelihoods support to 2,000 heads of household. Additionally, an education project for 1,000 Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanians may be expanded in 2014.

Winterization
CRS supported winterization assistance to hundreds of Syrian refugee families in Lebanon. Food, winter clothes, heaters, fuel for heat, blankets and mattresses were distributed to 5,000 Syrian refugees. Additionally, CRS supported the Good Shepherd Sisters distribution of food, winter clothes, heaters, fuel for heat, blankets and mattresses to hundreds of Syrian refugee families in the Bekaa Valley.

In Northern Iraq, working with local parishes, CRS provided winterization assistance to hundreds of newly arrived Syrian refugees.

Health
CRS reached over 2,000 refugees with primary and secondary care, immediate interventions for life-threatening wounds, and treatment for chronic diseases. CRS also received funding to open of a new healthcare clinic in Madaba, an area in Southern Jordan with a high influx of Syrian refugees.

CRS will host a multi-country Training of Trainers workshop in Lebanon in March, for expansion and roll-out of two No Strings International puppet films to be used as psychosocial tools for youth affected by the Syrian crisis.

Peacebuilding
CRS will deploy a peacebuilding project with local partner Adyan, in areas of Lebanon where tensions are exacerbated by the Syrian conflict.

Stay updated on the latest news from Syria, or subscribe to our newsletter to learn more about Catholic Relief Services’ work around the world.

Syria: CRS Serving Hundreds of Thousands of Civil War Refugees

Shaymeh, 7, carries a pan of water that she will heat over a wood fire so that she and her sisters can wash their hair at an informal refugee settlement in Qab Elias in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. (Sam Tarling for CRS)

Shaymeh, 7, carries a pan of water that she will heat over a wood fire so that she and her sisters can wash their hair at an informal refugee settlement in Qab Elias in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. (Sam Tarling for CRS)

In Syria, a civil war continues to endanger and uproot millions of innocent people. Families are pouring into Lebanon, Jordan and neighboring countries. Half of Syria’s 2 million refugees are children who have been out of school and have witnessed horrific atrocities. With women and children comprising 75 percent of the refugees, many mothers shoulder the burden of finding shelter, food, relief supplies, medical assistance and care for their children.

Context
Once a vibrant hub of Middle Eastern culture and history, Syria is besieged by an internal conflict that has uprooted millions of innocent families. The crisis in Syria began in March 2011, when a group of students in the southern city of Deraa—spurred on by the political events in Tunisia and Egypt—protested against the regime of President Bashar al Assad. Rather than sparking a quick change as their predecessors in North donate-nowAfrica had, these protests signaled the start of a long, as yet unfinished political conflict that has killed more than 100,000 Syrians and left millions of families displaced and destitute. An estimated 2 million Syrians have fled across the border into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt. An estimated 75 percent of the refugees are women and children.

CRS Commitment
CRS is working with our Catholic Church partners across the region to provide medical assistance, food, hygiene and living supplies, counseling and assistance for children. With the influx of refugees on the rise, the needs are greater than ever.

Impact to Date
We have assisted 250,000 war-affected Syrians in the region with shelter assistance, food support, medical care, education for children and trauma counseling.

Priorities Moving Forward
Shelter and rent assistance: Rent assistance helps support the majority of refugees who live in urban areas. Monthly stipends help families cover basic shelter needs and mitigate homelessness and squatting.

Food: Distributions of food staples help feed hungry families. Where food is available in local markets, CRS supports cash and voucher programs so people can purchase what they need. This helps keep shop owners in business and injects cash into the local economy.

Living supplies: Pre-packaged relief kits equip new refugees with the essentials: blankets and bedding, stoves, buckets and other key living supplies. Most refugees have nothing when they arrive.

Medical assistance: This support includes immediate interventions for life-threatening wounds, as well as care for chronic diseases like diabetes. Given the demographics of refugees, providing care for pregnant women, new mothers and newborns are priorities. We are working to open more primary care clinics to serve the growing population.

Hygiene and sanitation: Hygiene and sanitation activities help prevent waterborne diseases that often occur in emergencies. CRS and its partners are providing soap, laundry detergent, diapers, sanitary napkins and other supplies. This helps keep families healthy in chaotic or unsanitary conditions.

Children’s education, support and trauma counseling: CRS is supporting education, tutoring, recreational activities and trauma counseling for children. Specifically, we are providing informal school classes (including educational materials, desks, chairs and teacher support); social and educational activities to keep children safe; and counseling for children.

Syrian Refugees: Villanova Brings Prayer and Technology to Vigil

Syrians, fleeing a violent civil war, began pouring over the borders of neighboring countries in April 2011. There are now more than 2 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

During the week of November 4, Villanova University’s Catholic Relief Services student ambassadors held a “Week of Solidarity with Syria’s Refugees” to encourage Villanova students to donate emergency relief funds and advocate for increased humanitarian assistance. A student-organized interfaith vigil for the Syrian people was held on November 7 at the St. Thomas of Villanova Church.

CRS Ambassadors used iPads, smartphones and a DVD projector to tell the story of the tragedy. Attendees were asked to use their smartphones to make donations to CRS and to tweet about the situation.
All photos by Philip Laubner/CRS

Syrian Refugees Helping Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Syria help 2
With Tehane’s help, fellow Syrian refugees benefit from vital services, like food assistance and emergency shelter supplies. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

Highlights:

  • With approval of $6 million in funding from the Klett Trust, the Good Shepherd Sisters and the Sacred Heart Sisters have begun expanding their activities in Syria, as well as in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
  • Egypt’s education program for Syrian children has been scaled-up to 25,000 beneficiaries with a budget of $2.6 million from UNHCR. CRS Egypt has taken on 25 new staff and opened a large new sub-office in Cairo.
  • The Good Shepherd Sisters are scheduled to start new emergency projects in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon with support from the Klett trust.
  • CRS Egypt received $319,916 from the Bureau of Population and Migration for a one-year project to support Syrian refugees to have increased self-reliance through business training and small enterprise start-up grants.
  • CRS partner Caritas Jordan provided non-food-item vouchers and rent assistance to 2,000 Syrian refugee households (approx. 10,000 individuals).
  • In partnership with CRS, Caritas Jordan also completed start-up of a second Caritas Australia/AusAID-funded project to provide medical assistance for 6,400 Syrian refugees over the next 10 months. Caritas Jordan provided primary, secondary and emergency care to over two thousand refugees. Patients included 56 Syrian mothers and their newborns who received care including Cesarean operations, natural deliveries, diapers, medicine and nutritional supplements.
  • A CRS supported education project reached 600 Syrian refugees and 215 vulnerable Jordanians with back-to-school kits and non-formal education including intensive tutoring in core subjects, recreational activities and psychosocial support. Classes were provided to Syrian parents focusing on parenting techniques to understand and support the emotional and trauma needs of their children. Within this program 270 adults received theoretical and practical training on basic life skills including computer skills, English and job skills.
  • In Lebanon, Caritas Lebanon and International Orthodox Christian Charities distributed food, non-food-items and cloth parcels to more than 550 Lebanese and Syrian families. Around 100 volunteers from the Catholic and Orthodox communities worked together to assist these households in 5 different regions in Lebanon. More beneficiaries will be assisted in the upcoming months.
  • The CRS Egypt Head of Programming was invited, as the only NGO representative from Egypt, to participate in the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ education strategy meeting in Amman Jordan with representatives from UNHCR, UNICEF and the Ministries of Education.

Help Syrian Refugee Children Recapture Childhood in School

Syria
Syrian refugee children in Jordan receive school kits to continue their education. It’s a chance for normalcy in their uprooted conditions. Photo by Samar Bandak/Caritas Jordan

By Caroline Brennan

The toughest fighters from Syria aren’t the ones we see wielding weapons in the streets, but rather those who have little brawn to speak of. Syrian children, caught in the middle of a fight they never started, struggle to maintain a semblance of sanity in the chaos that surrounds them.

I’ve just returned from the Syrian border, where an estimated 1 million children have escaped the country’s deadly conflict and are living as refugees in uprooted conditions, often in squalor.  With so much talk about international allies in this crisis, the Syrian children could sure use one.

When sitting with children in their foreign surroundings, it is clear their memories are close at hand. A glass breaks or a door slams, and they are taken right back.

“You see the tell-tale signs of trauma among these children: stuttering, bed wetting, the fear of things they didn’t fear before, not wanting to get out of bed,” explains Randa Zoumot, a counselor with Catholic Relief Services’ local partner, Caritas Jordan. “If they hear a simple thing, they panic—thinking it’s an explosion or someone coming to get their Dad.”

Education is an urgent need

Nearly 65% of children who have received care from local social service centers in the region show severe signs of post traumatic stress disorder; 60% of the children showed signs of depression.

“Children don’t know where they are, what they’re doing, why their mother is crying,” says Dr. Ammar Burgan, a physician with Caritas Jordan.

Once a vibrant hub of Middle Eastern culture and history, Syria is besieged by internal conflict that has uprooted millions of innocent families. An estimated 1.6 million Syrians have fled across the border into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt.  More than 70% of Syrian refugees are women and children.

Education is an urgent need—critical to providing children with a sense of normalcy and routine. Plus, the longer a child is out of school, the less likely he or she is to ever return.

But going back to school is a challenge. As refugees, children face language barriers and long distances from government schools. Also, identity papers are often needed to enroll in school, but many families fled Syria at a moment’s notice, without time to grab their belongings.

Benefits to children

Catholic Relief Services is supporting Caritas Jordan to provide 3,000 refugee children and their families with education, counseling, specialized care, recreational activities and food. Specifically, children benefit from:

  • Informal schools with education materials and skilled teachers
  • Child-friendly spaces (large tents) that provide a safe space for children to play
  • Trauma counseling with skilled counselors who help children talk about their fears
  • Exercise games that allow children much-needed freedom of movement

As an important complement to this program, mothers are invited to take part in counseling sessions that help them address their own grief, and discuss the challenges they face as the heads of their households in a new country, and raising children who are traumatized.

“So many women lost their husbands, their family members, their friends,” Zournot says.  ”They don’t know what is to come and their greatest worry is their children.  We try to help mothers know how important they are to their children’s stability and healing. So many mothers feel helpless. They need a spark, a hope.”

‘Peace on the inside’

At a Caritas Jordan center in Zarqa, Hanan Yousef Abdel-Razaq, a young mother and refugee from southern Syria, discusses how taking classes has helped herself and her son.  “I see a huge difference in my children,” says Hanan. “All the time they were frightened because of the death of their sister. My son would have nightmares that someone was going to come in and kill him.  In our class, we talk about how to deal with our children, how to change the mood if they are afraid,” she continues.  ”I’ve learned how to change my own behavior, to be more patient, to count to three before I respond. It has been really tough. These classes give me peace on the inside.”

Catholic Relief Services and Caritas Jordan hope to expand these critical activities to reach thousands more children.

But, we need your help. With so many more Syrians fleeing the violence in their country, our resources are stretched to capacity. We must expand our schools, centers and activities to provide care and relief to those who are truly the most vulnerable in this crisis.

A little goes a long way

  • $35 pays for a school kit for a child
  • $35 pays for a teachers’ kit for a teacher
  • $50 pays for a hygiene kit for a family (including soaps, blankets, buckets, diapers)
  • $100 pays for a kitchen kit for a family (including stoves, plates, utensils, etc.)
  • $150 pays for a winter kit (including blankets, heaters, etc.) for a family
  •  $1,000 pays for activity materials for child-friendly spaces
  • $1,600 pays for a latrine for a child-friendly space, serving up to 200 children each month.
  • $5,000 pays for a child-friendly space (tent), including shipping and transport serving up to 200 children each month

Your support can help Syrian refugee children reclaim something that is not yet fully broken: a semblance of childhood. With the opportunity to get back to school, Syrian children have a fighting chance at getting back to normal.

“Please know that Syrians are kind,” says Hanan. “We are hospitable. It is a beautiful country and we will be happy to get back there and to rebuild. But right now we wish for more attention to our kids. We wish that nobody will see what they have seen. We need help.”

Caroline Brennan is a CRS senior communications officer. She is based in Chicago.

More on Syria:

Syria Crisis: Nostalgia Amid Need

LEB2013081750

The business of Karim, a shoemaker, was destroyed during bombings in Syria. He, his wife, Zahaya, and their year-old son also lost their home to the violence. The family has been living in this tent in Lebanon since late June 2013. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

By Caroline Brennan,

A family photo album. “If only I could see it,” says Zahaya. “Only then could I get the fuller picture.”

Zahaya, 21, is talking about her family and  life in Syria that was so recent—just a year or so ago—that might as well have been another lifetime.

We are sitting in her tent in the summer heat in a growing refugee settlement in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley.  Many refugees have come from their neighboring tents, and they all want to talk about the Syria they remember. They are taking me back in time—all the way to 2010. They serve coffee, though they have nothing. It is the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, so they are not drinking. They insist and, after some time, there is no way to refuse their offer.

The nostalgia for what Syria was – and the effort to convey that  longing to others – seems to be for so many refugees the last grip on a normal life, to keep themselves from losing their minds.What is happening to their country is simply beyond comprehension. Many of them echo the same message: “We were the country that helped so many people in need. We were the stable ones in the Arab region.” Says Mona, a young woman in the group, “We are humiliated.”

Zahaya keeps referring to the lost family album. It’s not just a book to her—that is clear. It’s not just the loss of something in a move—that can happen to any of us. The album is central to her identity and is now a crucial document in her search for help.

She and her husband, Karim, lived in Ras Al-Ayn, a town near the Turkish border. They were safe for some time during the first year of the civil war in Syria, a conflict that began in March 2011 with a peaceful protest in the south that gradually escalated into a deadly fight for the country. Estimates put the number of people killed in Syria from March 2011 to July 2013 at about 93,000 to 100,000 people. Millions of people have been uprooted inside the country, and at least 1.6 million people having fled into neighboring countries to seek help.

Time to Flee

As the indiscriminate violence began to transform sleepy middle-class towns and urban neighborhoods, Zahaya’s family started to feel the creep of danger.

Two events were pivotal to Zahaya’s decision to flee.

Zahaya’s mother, who was suffering from cancer but had already fled to Lebanon when violence engulfed her village, tried to return to Syria for chemotherapy that she couldn’t afford in Lebanon. The bus she was traveling on was hit by a bomb. No one survived. Zahaya still has trouble talking about it today.

Around the same time, Zayaha’s neighborhood started to shake from bombings at night. Community members decided to sleep “in the nature”—outside—to keep each other safe. One night in April 2013, after waking up, she and her husband walked back to their home and saw that it had been demolished.

“When we saw the house, a house we had worked so hard to physically build, we would have preferred to have died in our house than to see it that way,” Zahaya says. “We had nothing, only the clothes we were wearing. We knew it was time to leave.”

The family tried to go to Turkey, because it was close by, “but even that was too dangerous with bombings and insecurity,” says Zahaya.

So they made their way to Lebanon. Zahaya, Karim and their 1-year old son took several buses and made attempts to cross at three different borders. They were turned away each time because they didn’t have their papers or proof of identity—all destroyed in their house—and because they didn’t have any photos. “No albums?” they were asked when prompted to prove that Zahaya was in fact the mother of her son.

This affront to their identity seems to be the deepest wound many Syrians have endured. Their country is a living nightmare. Their homes and livelihoods are gone. Their families are torn apart. They have nothing to show for everything they lived and worked for.

“It is very difficult to live here in a tent. We live here because we have no money to pay for rent. We have no shower or bath here. We have no running water or electricity,” says Zahaya. “As a mother, it is difficult to manage my family here. Even when I want to bring water to clean clothes, my clothes get dirty with the process of collecting the water.”

The refugee families clutch memories shared in these tents and a hope that they will one day return and rebuild Syria as they remember it. For now, they try to create a semblance of home in another country, in living conditions far below their standards, awaiting news on the safety of loved ones.

‘I Will Go Home the Moment It Is Safe’

“We want all countries around the world to know how we live in this very bad situation,” Zahaya says.” Our children have asthma, illnesses, allergies that we are struggling to care for here. Our life was good before. We were not afraid before.

“Even if I have to live in a tent in Syria, I will go back home the moment it is safe,” she adds.

Her mind goes back to Syria. Without photos of her family to show visitors or to convey what her country means to her, Zahaya hopes that words can do her justice.

“The characteristics of Syrians are generous and helpful. In [previous conflicts in the region] people came to Syria for help. We opened our schools and homes to them. We welcomed them.

“We hope people will be kind to us.”

Editor’s Note: Catholic Relief Services and our partner, Caritas Lebanon, have provided critical food, shelter and living supplies to Zahaya and her family. CRS and our local Caritas partners in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are helping more than 15,000 refugees in Lebanon and more than 100,000 Syrian refugees across the region. 

Caroline Brennan is a CRS senior communications officer. She is based in Chicago.

Humanitarian Crisis Grows for Syrian Refugees

JOR2012069662Noujad, far right, lost her husband to the violence in Syria, and her son is still missing. With her family, she fled to northern Jordan, where CRS is supporting Caritas Jordan’s efforts to help Syrian refugees with basic necessities and medical care. Photo by Bill Lyons for CRS

By Caroline Brennan

They are predominantly mothers, children and grandparents, and they bear the wounds of a war they never intended to fight.

Catholic Relief Services is supporting urgent medical care and emergency relief for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in the areas most affected by the conflict across the region.

Help Innocent Families Affected by the Violence in Syria

Longing To Be Together

The families coming into Jordan and Lebanon say they represent pieces of something that might never again be whole. Emotions in the clinics and at refugees’ temporary homes run deep, along with an underlying theme of despair for the loss of life as they knew it.

For Noujad, a grandmother in her sixties, she never saw this coming.

“I am thinking throughout the night: How can it be that my husband was killed and my son was kidnapped?” she asks. “The heart of a mother is very sensitive. Nobody can feel the way a mother does…. When her son gets sick, a mother can’t sleep in the night. My son is missing, and I can’t sleep in the night. I want nothing but patience from God. We had no idea we would be leaving Syria this way. For my husband who left us, may he rest in peace. I hope he is in heaven now. I only ask that God protects my son.”

Noujad and her extended family are receiving food; relief supplies such as stoves, soap and blankets; and regular visits by Caritas staff in their temporary home.

Ziad Rshidat Abu-yamai, 52, is living the life of a single father, waiting for word that his wife has finally made it across the border. In her last attempt, she was turned back. Ziad is struggling with anxiety over what has become of her and his two daughters. At the same time, though, he must calm the fears of his 7-year-old son.

“I think too much of my wife and daughter,” he says. “I keep thinking of what they might be doing now. Will they be kidnapped, killed or raped? My son cries for them at night. He hasn’t seen his mother in 7 months.”

Ziad brings his son for a counseling session at the Caritas clinic in the Jordanian border town of Mafraq. The counselor, Lana, gives the young boy crayons, which doesn’t hurt, says Ziad, who tells the counselor that he’s noticed a significant improvement in his son’s demeanor since the weekly visits.

LEB2012069688

Photo by Sam Tarling for Caritas Switzerland

“I have nothing to do but remain strong, to look after my child and to keep things normal,” says Ziad. “It will take time, especially for our children, to get over what they have witnessed. It won’t be easy. My son always asks the same questions about who are hurting people. He is even drawing guns with his crayons. I wish fathers around the world never have to live the experience we have lived. I wish for no one to have lived this—and for them to live normally and happily with their children.”

Salam Zekkar, 57, is one of the lucky ones: Her entire family is with her. They are among the minority of Christian families who were living in Syria. She and her husband grew up together—”I knew at the age of 13 I wanted to marry him,” she says—and they can’t imagine ever being apart.

“I had two choices: to hold a gun and to fight, or to escape,” said Salam’s husband, Debo Issa Turk. “I had no choice.”

‘Things That Weren’t Supposed to Happen’

“Our home back in Syria was very beautiful,” says Salam. “We had a big bathroom and kitchen, a large salon and guestroom.”

“Our living room was painted white, and the kids’ room was painted brown,” her husband continues. “We used to sing. I have a good voice, and we were part of the church choir.”

But in July 2011, things started to change with murmurs of kidnappings. Things that weren’t supposed to happen in these neighborhoods—to these towns, to these families—started to happen. And then, the unthinkable: On their walk to a bakery, some women were shot.

“We escaped in the middle of the night. God protected us,” says Debo. “We came to Jordan with nothing—literally with the clothes on our backs. The most important thing is that our kids are safe. I didn’t even take my last paycheck when we left. I couldn’t look back.”

Salam and Debo’s family is like many who yearn to be back home in Syria—some refugees are counting the days. They long even more to be together, to have their loved ones safe and within reach.

“We stare in front of two emotions now,” says Debo. “Emotionally, we want to be back home in Syria by Christmas. Logically, we know that it is impossible to go back now. We know that we are lucky to just be with each other—to have each other. Our family is everything.”

The Catholic Relief Services Response

In close coordination with our long-term partners, Caritas Jordan and Caritas Lebanon, Catholic Relief Services is providing people with:

  • Food: CRS is supplying vegetable cooking oil, beans, rice, lentils and sugar to refugees.
  • Medical care: Refugees benefit from high-quality medical and dental care at eight clinics across Jordan. Services include counseling for survivors (especially children) of trauma. Because a number of refugees suffered wounds during the violence, and many lack access to medical care, the need for these services is significant.
  • Hygiene and sanitation: CRS is distributing soap, sanitary napkins, buckets and other materials to help prevent crises, such as waterborne diseases. Teams of CRS staff members and volunteers are teaching survivors about hygiene practices, such as hand-washing, safe waste disposal and ways to keep water clean.
  • Emergency household supplies: CRS is providing prepackaged relief kits of bedding, kitchen sets, fans and other essential living supplies to arriving refugees.Caroline Brennan is a CRS senior communications officer. She is based in Chicago.

Syrian Refugees Find Help in Camps

Syrian woman

A Syrian woman hangs her clothes to dry in a tented community in West Bekaa, Lebanon. CRS and Caritas are providing essential supplies for daily life, including soap, food, blankets and urgent medical care. Photo courtesy of Sam Tarling for Caritas Switzerland

Just a year ago, their lives were normal, quiet. Now these same families are fleeing their homes in Syria, pouring across its borders and leaving everything behind.

In Jordan and Lebanon, women, children and elderly people describe events that have upended their lives. They can’t sleep at night. They’re filled with anxiety about what is happening to their loved ones back in Syria and what’s to come for their children.

In these photos, you’ll see faces of people like you—people who never expected something like this to happen to them. You’ll also see how your support of relief efforts of Catholic Relief Services and our local partner Caritas is reaching them with food, clothing, bedding and medical care. So many families expressed their heartfelt gratitude for this support and, through tears, said they hope such a situation never happens to anyone again. View gallery here.