LEBANON: Of Sons & Sunflowers

We stand in the shadow of the mosque, the muezzin crying out his forlorn afternoon prayers as if he were searching for a lost place. I survey the neat rows of tents planted on the dusty parking lot and wonder how to tell the story of these Syrian refugees.

Syrian refugees huddle in these tents at a camp in Marj, Lebanon

Syrian refugees huddle in these tents at a camp in Marj, Lebanon

The numbers are overwhelming. The stories are overwhelming. The fears are overwhelming. There seems to be no end to the river of damaged and terrorized people flowing through the porous border from Syria into Lebanon. By the end of the year, it is estimated that the four million Lebanese will absorb one million Syrian refugees – homeless, hurting, helpless refugees relying on the mercy of strangers.
Syrian children greet me at a refugee camp in Marj, Lebanon.

Syrian children greet me at a refugee camp in Marj, Lebanon.

Throughout Lebanon and Syria, the Synod of Protestant Churches in Syria is working with other refugee relief agencies to provide basic human services. In Marj, for example, a small community in the fertile Beqaa Valley, the local government has dedicated public land for 45 families to live in tents provided by the United Nations. The Church provides children with hygiene and school supply kits and organizes activities to keep their tarnished souls lively. “We

started as a temporary office for the displaced,” explained Mahmoud Ibrahim, a representative from the municipality. “We wanted other [non-governmental organizations] to take the responsibility. Nobody came. Temporary things became permanent.” Sometimes two families squeeze into the 10×15’ claustrophobic tents. The municipality provides electricity and water. There is no regular food distribution. The Church fills in where its funds allow.

A Syrian refugee attempts to humanize his family's tent at a refugee camp in Marj, Lebanon.

A Syrian refugee attempts to humanize his family’s tent at a refugee camp in Marj, Lebanon.

I am invited over to one family’s tent where an overhead blanket

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is strung to provide shade in the blinding afternoon. A “porch” is created by rows of tin can planters in which grow basil, jade, roses and sunflowers. I stoop under the blanket awning, step over the plants and perch in a plastic chair at a small table to interview Hasan, a 48-year-old father who fled the Damascus suburbs with his children and wife after his 65-year-old father was kidnapped from his home. I glance at Hasan’s 9-year-old son and ask whether we should be talking about this violence in front of him. Hasan shrugs. He’s heard worse. He’s seen worse. I’m struck by the effort to beautify the stifling, futureless camp with flowers that grow more naturally than the children. As the afternoon deepens, the sunflowers raise their chins to the sun, secure in a nourished future, while Hasan leans languidly against a tent pole, cupping the chin of his son and gazing up at the mosque beyond the walled camp.

Syrian children at a refugee camp in Marj, Lebanon.

Syrian children at a refugee camp in Marj, Lebanon.

Syrian children show me the communal kitchen at the Marj refugee camp in Lebanon.

Syrian children show me the communal kitchen at the Marj refugee camp in Lebanon.

7 Responses to “LEBANON: Of Sons & Sunflowers”

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  1. Bev Kephart says:

    OH Kelly. You have to tell the story. People of the US have no idea the suffering these innocent people have to endure.
    Thank you for all your efforts and I look forward to you next story.
    But, we are very happy to have you back in Lakeside safe and sound.

    Hugs, Bev

    • Bev, this is so sweet of you….My next story will be about Syrian farmworkers who moved their families into a really bleak makeshift camp that now “houses” 2,000+ refugees in Lebanon. Love you!

  2. Herbert W. Piekow says:

    Kelly, It is imperative that you share these events, these emotions, the way life goes on despite the bitter rivalries. How families are uprooted, live with little hope and yet, somehow manage to have an attitude of perhaps someday things might be better for our children. I would like you mention that the Arab host countries allow the refuges into their countries yet, do not allow their “guests” to go to school, to recieve medical benefits, despite the fact that many are educated and are able to find jobs. No one wants to live as a refuge, everyone in the world wants a stable life with oppotunities for their children. To be stateless or to live under occupation or without freedom of expression is almost like being in purgatory or between heaven and hell. I praise you for your reporting about forgotten facts and people and not about war and destruction, but about those who are forever affected. May Allah grant you a special place in paradise, but not for many years.

  3. Suz says:

    Kelly-I’ve been talking about your Syrian-Lebanon journey of the heart with folks here. Your story is so needed. The journey continues….

  4. Jim Tipton says:

    Still another powerful piece from the mind and heart of Kelly Hayes-Raitt. You are certainly a wonderful woman, so filled with compassion and intelligence, and committed to making the world more aware of the suffering that is so much a part of the daily lives of far too many people on our planet.
    My blessings pour down upon you!