19 March 2013
It has been an intense 10 days here and yesterday our work reached a milestone. Our main effort has been to put the pieces of a puzzle together and help people to help themselves. We met a Syrian teacher that is determined to start a local school using Syrian curriculum. We were able to put him in touch with the local municipality and mayor and they quickly authorized the use of 4 classrooms in an old school/municipality headquarters. We also linked him with a school that is providing us with Syrian curriculum. We went house to house to find all of the Syrian refugees in the surrounding area and got them to attend a meeting yesterday where they registered their children in the new school.Solace has committed to sprucing up the classrooms with new paint and doors along with providing the children with uniforms, school supplies, a food box, and most importantly transportation back and forth from school. I will send photos of the school’s opening on Monday. We are expecting 38 students at the beginning and once we reach a total of 60 an Islamic organization has agreed to take over the program and also provide health insurance for the families and salaries for the teachers.
Tomorrow we are registering students at second center that will focus on intensive English courses. We expect 29 students right away and depending on funding will expect to double the program in size by May and begin teaching computer courses.
We finished packing the 100 food boxes and will distribute them to the families that enroll their children in school. All in all it is very encouraging to see that we have made a difference on the ground. I am saddened to report that last night there was violence in the village between Lebanese and Syrian youth. Apparently 4 Lebanese young men were sent to the hospital after the skirmish. Also Syrian warplanes bombed inside Lebanon yesterday trying to kill rebels that are being harbored in Lebanon. The most worrisome part is that with the huge numbers of refugees arriving daily it threatens to destabilize Lebanon. These little communities cannot handle the influx of so many refugees especially when the international community has not shown up to assist (at least in this area) There are stressed out people with no food, no money and too much suffering from psychological trauma flooding these small-insulated towns. A recipe for additional disaster and violence.
“While the changes we are making on this planet are small they
have provided thousands of people with opportunities for education,
access to health care, economic security and a sense of pride, ownership
and freedom to control their own destinies.”
~ Nate York ~ Solace Executive Director
Executive Director Nate York in Rachaiya, Lebanon
March 10, 2013
It has been a little over a week since we arrived in Lebanon. The first few days in Beirut were surreal as the city is a modern, expensive, materialistic scene. Every other car is Mercedes or BMW. The trophy wives populate the outdoor café’s showing off their new Coach handbags, staring through the lens of their oversized Gucci sunglasses sipping a cocktail through freshly plumped collagen lips. A perfect setting for a version of the Real Housewives of Beirut.
While on the surface all is well in this bright and bustling city the Syrian war is on everyone’s minds. Young Syrian boys shining shoes terrorized me each morning as I tried to enjoy my morning coffee. Syrian women carrying their wrapped up babies beg for coins from shopkeepers and shout their tales of woe in high-pitched Arabic.
Lebanon has a population of 4 million people. The number of refugees from Syria already here is an estimated 1 million. That is 25% of their population. Imagine if the USA suddenly had an influx of 75 million refugees. It would completely overwhelm our system and create a host of tensions, problems and complications.
Lebanon has not allowed the construction of refugee camps. The reason for this is the fear of them staying for long periods of time. Many refugees are staying 10 to a room using the little savings they may have had to pay rent. The vast majority are women and children.
We are now currently staying in a village 5 miles from the Syrian border. We met with 13 families yesterday who are living in rough conditions some with no heat, water or beds. They told us stories of their houses and businesses that had been bombed and or looted. How their brother or father or relative had been imprisoned or killed. There was one common denominator from all the families we visited. They were in a total state of confusion, shock and trauma. Many of these people were successful businessmen or tradesmen with a high standard of living and now they find themselves in another country renting a room with no furnishings, very little heat and where everything is expensive. All they hope for at the moment is work and the ability to pay rent.
We made the decision as we head out for our second day of interviews that we are not going to arrive empty-handed. We are going to put together a little care package for each family (eggs, produce, soap, bread) that we meet with if only to brighten their day for one day. Obviously this is not a long-term solution but it may lift the heavy burden of stress and a feeling of displacement for a day. We have some long-term project ideas brewing but need to gather more information. For now we are going to gather more information and determine the best way forward.
We are the first NGO to have interviewed them. There is very little international help in this region.
More to come soon.
27 Feb 2013
It’s 3:00 AM and I’m in a cozy house in Wallace, Idaho. I need to be up and rolling to Portland, Oregon at 6:00 AM to drop off my dog at my sister’s house and fly to San Diego to prepare for my trip to Lebanon on Wednesday.
As you know the situation there is getting worse daily. It’s a complex political, ethnic and ideological civil war that is destroying the infrastructure of a nearly 1st world country and ruining the lives of 100’s of thousands of people. Perhaps the most heartbreaking is the disintegration of two thousand years of relatively peaceful coexistence between those of differing faiths. Ethnic cleansing and war are ugly.
What does Solace aim to accomplish? The honest answer is “I don’t know.” But I do know why I am going over there. This situation is eerily similar to what I experienced in Bosnia in 1995. When a society experiences civil war and people are exposed to unimaginable violence, when their homes are destroyed and their beloved churches/mosques and historical monuments are turned into rubble it is a terrible shock. It is a horror. I have been in these situations before and I hope my experience will lead me to where we can be of assistance. My goal is to help alleviate a little bit of pain and be an ear for those to who desperately want their voice to be heard. I remember in Bosnia I was in the first convoy to travel to Gorazde the only enclave that didn’t fall to the Serbs. The town had been surrounded and under siege for 4 years, they had seen the bodies of hundreds of executed Bosnian men from Srebrenica floating down the river past their town. The survivors hungered to tell us their stories. We brought food, medicine and clothing but our aid seemed insignificant. More than anything they wanted the world to know what they had suffered through. They wanted to share their pain with a representative of the outside world.
I have been following the news closely and there have been stories about home schools starting up in apartments and houses in Lebanon. The Lebanese government has allowed the establishment of refugee camps for various political reasons and the majority of Syrian refugees are renting apartments and staying with friends. Syrian teachers have begun to start home schools and I plan to seek them out and listen to what their needs are. Establishing schools for refugee children is critical because it creates a routine and small sense of normalcy in a very traumatizing situation. My intention is for Solace to help depending on what needs present themselves.
It may be that after 5 weeks all I have to report is that we listened to some people’s stories and empathized with their pain. I don’t know exactly how it is all going to play out. I will send weekly updates that Michelle will post via vertical response.
Thanks for all of your support over the years and I love getting emails when I’m in the thick of it. It encourages me.