How do you fit a million and a half refugees into a country with a population of only 4 million? Tearfund’s partners Heart4Lebanon show Stella Chetham where one Syrian family have made their new home.
It was our third visit of the day in a sweltering south Lebanon. We pulled up to a dilapidated storefront. It appeared deserted.
My guide strode over and pulled up the grille, and we entered a small mechanic's workshop. He headed to a ladder placed against the back wall.
I saw a narrow opening in the ceiling, then a little face peering down at us.
‘They actually live here?’ I asked, incredulous.
Once up the rickety ladder I found myself in a dark and tiny room. I could make out an old wardrobe, a mat, a low camp bed, a small television – and a family of four.
Saida stood beaming and welcomed us with a torrent of greetings as we each emerged clambering somewhat awkwardly into the room.
As we sat, the baby sleeping and the two older children sitting watchfully by her, she told a story that broke my heart.
'I’m stuck, waiting for God’s help’
At first it was the story of almost every refugee I speak to. ‘We came here from war. I lost my parents,’ she said simply. ‘We left because of ISIS - you know about them, right?’
The family thought they had reached safety. But then a year ago her husband was detained without warning. ‘The forces came and arrested him. They accused him of having illegal papers, but up to now they can’t find anything against him.
‘There was a lawyer who I paid almost $2,000 to when my husband was captured. He didn’t help, he just took the money. I hired another lawyer, but he also wants nearly $1,000. I can’t pay him, so he won’t release the case to another lawyer. So I’m now stuck, waiting for God’s help.’
Tearfund partner Heart4Lebanon have recently come to her assistance, calling on their connections and raising her case to various authorities who have promised to look into it.
As we’re speaking I see a movement – a rat darting along the edge of the room into the corner. ‘It’s because they have rubbish outside, that’s why the rats come,’ Saida explains, as if feeling the need to apologise to us.
What she says next turns my stomach.
‘One night we were asleep. My baby son was sleeping next to me and he started screaming. There was no electricity – we have no generator – so I turned on my mobile phone for light and I saw something crawling near the wall.
‘He was really crying hard, screaming and shouting. I touched his leg and I felt blood. He was bleeding for almost an hour and a half, and he didn’t stop crying hard. And I was really scared. In the morning I took him to the doctor. The doctor gave him some medicine and I’m still giving it to him up to now, so that any disease will leave his body.’
'May God give you strength. God is protecting us.’
Saida is raising three small children on her own in a tiny attic room. She’s doing all she can to keep the rats from biting her baby again and to secure her husband’s release from prison, and all this while she grieves the loss of family and country.
There’s only one reason why, in spite of all this, Saida manages to smile and stay hopeful. That reason is the ongoing care and practical support she is receiving from the staff of Heart4Lebanon – an organisation Tearfund proudly supports in their work.
‘Bless you, you’ve been so good to us, helping us. We’re just living on the support of the organisation. I can’t work, so the food packages help me very much. This is the only food we receive, so the rice, the oil, everything, it’s really helping me out.
‘I just want to thank you, and may God give you strength. Thank you for helping people. God is protecting us.’
Stella Chetham is Head of Communications for Tearfund's work in the Middle East.
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