All posts by patriciaholt

Have You Heard of the White Helmets?

Dear friends, The UN just announced Aleppo is fast becoming 'one giant graveyard' and residents risk 'extermination'. Not one of our governments is in there saving lives, but an extraordinary group of Syrians are: The White Helmets. 73,530 lives in fact. That’s how many people they have saved, rushing to the scene of bombings to pull people from the rubble and carry them to safety. What's amazing is these heroes are just ordinary people — bakers, teachers, tailors — who felt they couldn't stand by, and threw themselves right into the line of fire. For their bravery, they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the $1 million of critical funding it comes with — but they lost! Forget the Nobel Prize — together we have the power to give the White Helmets the recognition they deserve and the funding they desperately need. For their heroic efforts, White Helmets volunteers are often targeted — Russian and Syrian regime planes bomb civilians, then circle back to bomb the rescue workers who scramble to help. It’s just a part of the picture of horror that’s rocked Syria for almost six years and killed as many as 470,000 people. It’s become harder and harder to stop — and has turned into the greatest shame of our generation. As the conflict continues to spiral, the White Helmets are doing work that no one else can, or will. They’re standing up as heroes while the world watches and fails to stop the conflict.
If you'd like to know more about these brave citizens:

And What About School?

I was distressed to learn that there are refugee youth who haven't been to school for over five years.   Does this mean we'll have a generation of unemployable young adults who can't read or write and therefore vulnerable to people who offer them a gun and some money to devastate a community? Here's what's happening in Lebanon.  Surely it's being duplicated in Jordan and elsewhere.  50% of refugee children between age 5 and 17 are not enrolled in school.  Only 17% of teenagers 16-18 are enrolled.  Why this high dropout rate?  There are over a million registered refugees, Syrian and Palestinian.  The schools are overcrowded.  School is taught in French or English, not Arabic.   An organization I've told you about, ANERA, is working to change that by offering education and vocational classes to give students the skills they need to support their families.  We are so lucky to be living here that it's almost impossible to imagine losing our house, our job, our loved ones,  our friends.  It's what happens when people have to run for their lives, leaving everything behind.  It's what makes them poverty stricken refugees.

Winter in Lebanon

I left for France after my last post, came back and left again for the Thanksgiving Holiday.   Until now I thought Tuscany was the place I'd return to again and again.  And now Provence has proved itself to be equally fascinating.   If the opportunity arises, don't miss them. Back to the reality of the current refugee crisis.  Winter is coming.  For the thousands and thousands who are living in shelters made of old pallets and discarded plastic banners, with plastic or an old blanket between them and the ground and no heater, the prospect is bleak.  Right now 1,033,513 Syrian refugees are living in Lebanon, 360,000 of them in settlements 3,000 feet above sea level.  Freezing temperatures and winter storms await them.   Are the churches in your communities banding together to send clothing, blankets, mats, insulation or heaters?  What about other charities?  If there are none, you might think about donating to the UN Refugee Agency.    

Tell Me, Do You Have to Make Things Fun to Attract Volunteers?

I've been witnessing differences in congregations I've visited over the past few months. Some are small, perhaps 150 members.  Some have 400 or 500 members.   One denomination has thousands of members.  Thousands.  What attracts those thousands of people to make the journey once a week or more, depending on involvement, to sit in a space for an hour or so listening to music and message?     It appears that a joyful, playful ambience, with eye-catching items to woo the children and parents, lively music and a warm welcome go a long way to bringing people back. Might it be the same with volunteers?  Is a guarantee of fun the way to bring them back and to keep them involved in the important work of your organization?  What has your experience shown?  How do you keep your volunteers enthusiastic and interested in your projects? Volunteers, what brings you back?  Is it fun that you look forward to having?      

What’s Happening to People in Northern Iraq?

“There’s no fighting! There’s order and organization!” These were the words of Bilquis* to her neighbour upon her return from a food and hygiene relief distribution Operation Mercy had just conducted in Northern Iraq. *Khalood, the neighbour who had been reluctant to attend because of past experiences with problematic distributions, was persuaded by these words and returned with much needed food staples, pleased with her experience. Over a period of 3 months, Operation Mercy Iraq staff conducted six distributions providing food and hygiene supplies for residents of Var City. “Future City”, as it translates to, is an apartment complex located 20km outside Dohuk, a city that became a safe haven for Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqi families fleeing the ISIS invasion of Mosul in the summer of 2014. Over 40 members of the recipient community were employed to assist with the distributions, which were carried out in conjunction with a partner organization that had already established relationships with Var City residents through continuous health care provision and English language training opportunities. Var City houses almost 1500 families - just over 6000 people. Because it is not a formal camp setting, it has received little attention and assistance from the UN and the international community. In September 2015, due to lack of funding, the World Food Program had to stop providing food rations. Since then, these displaced families have had their already limited resources stretched far beyond their capacities. Once they pay rent and generator power costs, there is little to nothing left for basic food and hygiene supplies. Many residents try to find work as day laborers, but all the living expenses are a huge burden. Bozan*, a carpenter by trade, fled his village in Syria after the war broke out in 2012, taking his two sons with him, one of whom had been in the Syrian army. When they arrived in Dohuk region, they tried to get into a camp, but there was no space. After trying several times, Bozan eventually gave up. Using savings that he had taken with him from Syria, he is now renting in Var City. Generally, he enjoys living in Var City, especially because many neighbours from his village are also there. The downside of living in Var City, he says, is the relatively high rent and other expenses. Mohammed*, one of Bozan’s village neighbours, also left Syria in 2012, along with his four brothers; their parents stayed behind to guard their land. Leaving everything - his house, his land and his work – was not easy. For more than three years he could not find work, but recently he found a job and is now able to provide for his wife and one year old son, as well as his brothers. “Having no work is a huge burden,” Mohammed says. “Life is hard with all the costs. Var City is a nice place to live, but we have to pay rent.” In the future he hopes to leave Iraq and live in Canada. Until then, he is thankful for the distribution of food and hygiene items, which help to supplement the supplies they are able to obtain to sustain their family. Fatima*, a Syrian mother of six children told us that when they lived in Syria they weren’t rich but they always had enough. Nowadays it is a struggle to find income to pay rent and other costs. She is using every single item that is distributed and needs it desperately. The provisions have made a great difference in the lives of many who have been struggling to get by. Besides filling an area of great need for these families of Var City, residents have reported that the distributions have helped show them that they are not forgotten or alone. *Names have been changed.