“We need more than just words”
Storm Micha is threatening overhead with dark clouds and the beginnings of high winds and precipitation as I visit CARE Lebanon’s work with a municipality on the outskirts of Tripoli. I stand in front of a private, large residential structure that is home to 35 Syrian families who each pay 100 USD per month for one room per family. As the clouds gather above me and the dirt road leading up to the top of the hillside becomes increasingly muddy with the rain, Mariam, a colleague of CARE Tripoli’s water and sanitation team joins me inside the first floor of the building.
We stand in a group of Syrian refugees clamouring with one another to tell their story about the conditions in which they are living. A woman with dark, flashing eyes holds on to my arm to guide me into the four-family shared sanitation facility. She shows me a bathroom/wash room for about forty people: A traditional well-worn and chipped porcelain foot slab serves as the toilet while the shower and hand-washing facilities are provided by a rubber hose leading out of a water tank that has not been filled with trucked in water for more than ten days although it is supposed to be filled once a week. These families have habited this private “house” for nearly two years. Divisions between the rooms are plywood. As the rain increases and the winds heighten I can feel the damp chill pervade the building – only heralding what will be a cold winter for families who do not have warm clothes, bedding, heaters, or perhaps even more importantly, something to do with their days other than to go out and look for casual work or plead for potable water from the local Lebanese households in the neighbouring communities.
A woman and man in the group surround us and try to command Mariam’s attention to translate to me. They speak emphatically of how people from NGOs come and go. An elderly Syrian woman pushes her grandchild in front of me to show me that in this cold weather all he had to wear was a ripped T-shirt and plastic shoes. “The NGO workers look at us and talk to us and nothing happens, while we continue to try to survive in a country that is not our own”, she tells me. I feel slightly ashamed, because I know what she means. I know that we do not have sufficient funds to help all these people and provide for their basic needs. While my colleagues at CARE Lebanon work around the clock to ensure refugees have adequate water and sanitation facilities, the gaps are immense and the living conditions intolerable – such as in this building.
Lebanon is host to over 1.2 million registered Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the region; and while tensions are high, it is remarkable that they have not reached a breaking point. The world must go beyond the usual words of commitments that often do not translate into direct help. The world must support my colleague Mariam and the many other brave, energetic and committed colleagues to respond to the tremendous gaps, needs and rights of the Syrian refugees now in Lebanon and who are desperate to return to homes that they can call their own.
Written by Barbara Jackson, CARE International Humanitarian Director