Saturday, June 18, 2016

World Refugee Day: "Your Help Makes Us Feel Like Human Beings Again"

The hands of Father Paul.

June 20 is World Refugee Day. To mark that occasion, the Humanitarian Coalition has brought together a number of NGOs in Canada to remind Canadians of the plight of 60 million displaced people in the world today. I used the following story in my June 18 Winnipeg Free Press faith page column. Note: For security reasons, none of the people quoted in this column wanted to be photographed.

The meeting with aid workers from Syria about the dire situation in that country was proceeding as smoothly as it could for such a dire subject—until the translator started crying.

“I’m sorry,” Miralle said, after translating a report about how children in that country are suffering due to the war.

“I have kids of my own.”

In truth, I was feeling a bit teary-eyed myself at the meeting, which took place in March at the Beirut, Lebanon office of the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD).

I was there as part of my work with Canadian Foodgrains Bank, an organization that provides resources to its 15 member agencies so they can help people who don’t have enough to eat around the world.

It was a hard meeting, but it was also rewarding to know that the aid provided by Canadians through was making a difference.

The assistance is “filling the gap,” said Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, president of FDCD, adding that “some would literally die of hunger without this help.”

The aid workers, a mix of Christians and Muslims from Syria, agreed.

“Your help makes a big impact on people’s lives,” said Mustafa. “If there is no food, they will only think about leaving, go to Europe. For this reason, we want to provide food.”

Many of the people he is assisting “fled without anything, only the clothes they were wearing,” he said. “This assistance is the only food they are getting. There is no other help.”

Before the food arrived, people were only getting help once or twice a year, added Ibrahim. “Now it is every month. If this project stopped, it would be a catastrophe.”

Rahaf works with children. It was her comments that made Miralle cry.

She described the terrible living conditions facing the children she visits—kids with no shoes, socks or winter clothes, unable to go to school, witnessing terrible things like their friends and adults killed, living in fear for their lives.

When she asks parents about the food provided by Canadians, “they say it is a miracle,” she said. “They tell me they can find a solution for their challenges if they have something to eat.”

Then it was Father Paul’s turn. “Thank-you,” he said. “Your help allows life to go on . . . your help makes us feel like human beings again.”

When the food arrives, recipients want to know where it is coming from.

“We tell them it is coming from Christians in Canada,” said Dr. Jarjour.

The assistance is also “strengthening the church” in Syria and promoting “good inter-religious cooperation,” he added—it enables a powerful witness for peace and cooperation that is much-needed in a country torn by sectarian divisions.

After their reports, we asked the aid workers from Syria what keeps them going.

“We are providing a service to those in need in a horrible situation,” said Mustafa. “That keeps me going, even though there are times when I cry because I can’t help everyone who is in need.”

“It makes me feel good when we see needs and we can help,” said Ibrahim. But, he adds, “there are times when I feel helpless.”

For Father Paul, it’s simple: “We are bringing life in the midst of so much death . . . when we give them food, we can see hope in their eyes.”

Added Rahaf: “It’s something I can do for my country. And if, God forbid, I should ever be in such need, I would want people to respond in the same way to me.”

June 20 is World Refugee Day. Across Canada, a number of humanitarian aid groups are participating in a national campaign to draw attention to the 60 million people who are displaced from their homes.

As we think of the many who have fled their homes for safety, we can also think of people like Ibrahim, Mustafa, Rahaf and Father Paul who are doing what they can to help.

And we can pray for them, and for all those who are afraid and homeless today.

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