I Am Syria
by Johanna Mitscherlich of CARE Germany, serving in Jordan
Ali stands in front of over 40 Syrian refugees in an old warehouse in Chouf, in the North of Lebanon. He is wearing jeans and a red pullover, under which a white collar shows. Behind him, a photo of an ATM is projected. Step by step, he explains to his listeners where and how they can withdraw money.
âCARE assists more than 1,900 families in the Mount Lebanon region through the distribution of blankets, floor mats and cash with which they can buy stoves and fuel. Storm “Alexa” has introduced a harsh winter to Lebanon. Many refugees live in tents under tarps and cardboard exposed to freezing temperatures, hail and snow.
An old lady with a buckled back and a wrinkled face takes Ali’s hand after he stops talking. “Thank you,” she says in a quiet voice. “All of the people who come here are smiling. They are strong. They love life. They help me forget my own pain.”
Ali is a refugee, but he is not counted among the number of 2.3 million Syrians who have fled to neighbouring countries since the beginning of the conflict. He is Palestinian and, like his parents, he was born a refugee.
“I am a refugee twice over now. Is there a superlative of the word refugee?,” he asks me. More than 50,000 Palestinian Syrians have fled to Lebanon, one of the few countries accepting them.
“At least here I am safe, “ Ali says and tells me about his friends who are still living in Yarmouk Camp, the biggest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. “The last time I talked to them they were closed in and bombs were dropped on them constantly. They cannot leave the camp, cannot buy food, clean water or medication.”
I ask him what he misses most. Ali replies sleeping in his own bed. For the past two years, he has been waking up every night not knowing where he is, not knowing what happened. He jumps up and thinks that he has to pack his belongings very quickly so he can leave in time.
“All of my friends, my entire history and my memory are in Syria. Syria is inside me filling my body, my heart and my longings. I am Syria.”
To support his family, Ali tutors four Lebanese children in math, biology and chemistry and works part-time for a refugee organisation. What little spare time he has he spends as a volunteer with CARE’s partner organization Development for People and Nature Association. “You get more than you give,” Ali replies when I ask him why he is doing everything he is.
This refugee crisis and the Syrian civil war seem far away for a lot of people. But if Ali, who himself has absolutely nothing left, can give so much on so many levels in terms of support, kindness and readiness to help others, how is it possible that the world seems to forget about this crisis? It’s time people worldwide learn a lesson from individuals like Ali and stop thinking that they have no power to make a difference.