Beirut Branch Members Pack Food Boxes to Help Syrian Refugees
Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News associate editor
- The United Nations has dubbed the crisis in Syria “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.”
- Members of the small Beirut Branch are very responsive to the Church's humanitarian efforts.
Carlos Nassif, a member of the Beirut Branch in Lebanon, knows many in his city are living in “difficult days.”
“A lot of people are hungry and needy,” he said as he worked with other branch members on October 11 to assemble food kits for Syrian refugees in Beirut. “This way we can help them.”
The UN high commissioner for refugees reported this year that the total number of refugees worldwide now exceeds 50 million—including some 6.5 million that have been displaced by the Syrian Civil War. Officially, some 1.14 million of those refugees have fled to Lebanon.
Father Paul Karam, president of Caritas Lebanon—a humanitarian organization and partner of LDS Charities—estimates, however, that there are closer to 1.6 million Syrian refugees in the city.
And when the number of Syrian refugees are added to the number of refugees from other countries, “refugees account for more than half the population of Lebanon,” he said. “Can Lebanon afford this huge number of people? Can the infrastructure support this number of people? We are in a real crisis.”
There is no doubt the Syria crisis—dubbed “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era” by the United Nations—has strained local resources in Lebanon, where some 30 Church members gather each week as part of the Beirut Branch.
Roger Trad, a new Latter-day Saint in the country, said preparing the food boxes marked his first opportunity to provide humanitarian aid to others in the area.
He said the Church members understand the needs and hopes of the refugees “because we ourselves live in times of war.”
Karim Assouad, president of the Church’s Amman Jordan District—which includes Lebanon—said members of the small Beirut Branch are very responsive to the Church's humanitarian efforts. “Whenever they know that we are going to do food packages, they come—even if they have one hour,” he said.
That is because they understand the plight of refugees like Mohammad Hammoud and his wife, Khawleh Al-Hussen, and their seven children. Two years ago the family lived “between the army and the airport” in Aleppo, Syria. But when the Syrian Civil War moved to their village, “we left our home and our country” and fled to Lebanon.
But the security they enjoy in Beirut came at a price.
The family lives in rooms above the factory where Mr. Hammoud works, earning $90 a week. The cement walls and broken windows will provide shelter—but not warmth—for the children this winter. And it has been three years since anyone in the family has attended school. The oldest children are forgetting how to read and write; the youngest never learned.
“We are living, but not decently,” said Mr. Hammoud.
Mrs. Al-Hussen said they came to Lebanon because they had “no other solution.” Now, she said, she worries constantly “about school and about the wintertime.”
The family received one of the 110 food boxes packaged by Beirut Branch members. In addition, Church members took them winter clothing, blankets, and other supplies.
After the food boxes arrived at Mrs. Al-Hussen’s home, she sat on the floor with her daughters, prepared squash for dinner, and talked about life in Syria.
One day she hopes to return to Syria, start again, and serve others the way she has been served.
As Astrid, 13, packed the boxes, she thought of Mrs. Al-Hussen, her family, and other refugee families who need food. She tried to imagine the meals they would cook. And she thought hard about other things that might help the refugees in her city.
Because she served them, Astrid said, “we appreciate more what we have and where we live, and we pray for them.”