Spending time with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Br. Irfan Khurshid and Br. Ilyas Hasan Choudry of Helping Hand for Relief & Development (HHRD) saw the heart-wrenching suffering of men, women, and children who have been displaced by the crisis in war-torn Syria. The Lebanese government is not allowing tented refugee camps, so Lebanese families are increasingly hosting displaced Syrians. There are reports of Lebanese individuals who drive to the border to pick up refugees and take them back to their homes. Lebanon faces its own economic and security concerns and already is stretched to outer limits by the decades-old refugee camps that have housed nearly half a million Palestinians. Some Syrians are now seeking shelter as well in these densely populated camps, taking up residence in squalid buildings whose hallways are strewn with trash, water is leaking from decrepit pipes, and exposed electrical wires hang everywhere. HHRD along with many other NGOs, are providing help to the refugees. The real story though, as shared by Br. Choudry, is the fierce human will for survival and the resilience of the human spirit amidst such tormenting circumstances. Br. Choudry describes their visit what they saw:
We distributed food rations and children’s gifts. We met some Syrian families… and…found brothers who were injured and in real bad condition. One of them has lost his legs; another had a brain injury. We also met Syrian families at an abandoned school, which has been converted into a refugee camp, where majority of the children were orphans, having lost their fathers. Some children were only a few months old. Wherever we went, we tried our best to make the children feel happy. So we played with them, raced with them, holding the smaller kids while racing the older ones. We gave them cookies and other treats. When we tried to take pictures, each child wanted to sit in our laps (maybe missing their fathers). Tears came to my eyes when one small child asked me to bend down and he kissed my cheek. I had the thought that in the U.S. we take these things for granted for our kids, and here this small child is so happy that he has given a special kiss on my cheek. This was the Gift of my lifetime.
I hugged the child and kissed him on the head. Another one looked at me, longing for a similar gesture. So I took his hand and kissed it. Other children, watching this, began to ask for my hand, kissed my hands, and put my hands on their eyes like it somehow soothed their souls for a moment in time. I wanted to cry aloud, but had to control myself. Totally heart wrenching!
Later on we went to a rehab and prosthetic center, where we met a lady, who read us a poem in Arabic. In the poem she said something like this – “World: So much has happened and you are quiet: Why? Why?!” This lady has lost two of her legs, lost her husband, lost her two children of four and two years. Yet, she was smiling, saying Allah SWT had written this in her fate and she has totally accepted it. Her only wish is to return back to a happy and prosperous Syria, living among her fellow country-persons. Really, I was dumbfounded, imagining what it would be like if I did not have my legs. What state would I be in? But here is someone who has lost everything but has gained so much in demonstrating her faith and trust in Allah SWT while suffering such extreme hardship.
At this center there was also a boy, all smiles, having lost one leg. His main concern was not that he has lost the leg, but perhaps that he will never ride a bike. The doctor who is treating him and working on his prosthetic is confident that soon he will able to ride a bike. This young and vulnerable boy will receive his first bike from his doctor. “
These are just a few of the untold numbers of stories of Syrian refugees, joining the ranks of millions of others worldwide who remain displaced. According to the 2006 World Refugee survey conducted by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), roughly 33 million people are displaced from their homes. Twelve million are refugees seeking shelter in camps in countries other than their homeland; and 21 million are Internally Displaced Persons who remain in their own countries but are displaced from their homes by armed conflict and pervasive violence. According to the USCRI survey, the highest number of refugees and IDPs, roughly 4.2 million, are in the Middle East, comprised of Palestinians, Afghanis, and Iraqis; and now Syrians are swelling that number even further.
Br. Choudry also relates their experience in visiting a Palestinian camp during their time in Lebanon.
He says, “I never ever imagined such a horrible place to live: Absolutely unimaginable conditions they are facing. I have seen many Kutchi Abadis in Pakistan [unplanned settlements which arise with mass migration from rural areas to cities] which are almost similar to what I saw here. But I never thought people do Wudu and take showers with salt water… I did Wudu for Maghrib and my mouth was sour for many hours…Imagine living in a place where streets are about two to three feet wide, where all the utility wires and pipes are in the open going over your head and sometimes around your feet. Not suitable for human habitat at all, but our Palestinians brothers and sisters in humanity are living here for decades. How … Why…?”
Children grow up in these camps, playing among the tangled wires carrying bootlegged electricity and the open sewage flowing through gullies in the street. They live in small cramped quarters lacking ventilation and daylight. The children are surrounded by rampant crime and disease. The haunting question of “How…Why?…” follows the children’s every move. It should just as relentlessly pull at our sense of compassion and willingness to help.
Please do your part to help our brothers and sisters. Your donations help to provide food, shelter, medical supplies, warm clothing, blankets, and so much more. Remember the boy who lost a leg but dreams of one day riding his bike, a smile lighting up his face. Keep close to heart the woman who lost everything near and dear except her faith…and she too smiles. But that boy and that woman have shed countless tears, and the hearts of millions displaced from their homes are wrenched with sorrow and fear.
Remember also the tears of those who witness the tragedies and try to help, like Br. Choudry and Br. Kurshid. Please visit www.hhrd.org to do your part in bringing relief and restoring lives.