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.
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?
“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.
My friend who is in Turkey helping the Syrian and Kurdish refugees told me about Michelle and her work as a midwife volunteer with MedVint. Here's her story. By Madeline Fox email@example.com Though reports out of Turkey have focused on last month’s terrorist attack at Ataturk airport in Istanbul and last week’s attempted military coup, for Kansas midwife Michelle Ruebke, the most important issue in Turkey today is its massive refugee population. More than 2.7 million people who have fled the Syrian civil war have now settled in Turkey, which connects Syria to Europe. Ruebke, 51, arrived in Izmir, Turkey, on June 26. Since then, she has seen hundreds of Syrian and Kurdish refugees at camps around the city whose complaints range from diabetes to ear infections to complications from pregnancy. Working alongside a local translator who is himself a refugee, as well as with a doctor and a nurse, Ruebke spends hours seeing patients in the plastic tents of Izmir’s refugee camps. It’s exhausting. But I have a skill that is really needed, and I knew there was a need working with the Syrian refugees in Turkey. “It’s exhausting,” Ruebke admitted. “But I have a skill that is really needed, and I knew there was a need working with the Syrian refugees in Turkey.” The attitude is characteristic of Ruebke, said her daughter, Hope. The Newton-based midwife has made similar volunteer trips over the past several years, visiting Haiti, the Philippines and Peru. “She goes above and beyond what is expected of her,” Hope Ruebke said. “Even if she doesn’t have the funding, she will go no matter what – she will find a way.” Hope Ruebke, 22, just returned from two years volunteering in Haiti. She said the whole family is “very mission-minded” and has been keeping up with their mother’s work through her Facebook posts and the occasional email. “It’s been exciting,” Hope Ruebke said of her mother’s Turkey trip. “We’re all very proud of her, though we’ve also been worried as it is a very hard place to be.” Michelle Ruebke and the other volunteers from MedVint, a Switzerland-based medical nonprofit organization, wake up early to pick up their translator before heading to the local pharmacy, where they spend hundreds of dollars each day on medications for the refugees. Ruebke says they visit each of the approximately 25 camps they serve about every two weeks. They spend at least three hours in each camp, though sometimes the visits last much longer. “The people here that I’ve worked with are just precious people – when we come into a camp they are so grateful and hospitable,” Ruebke said. She said she is frustrated by the lack of support refugees receive from the Turkish government and from local hospitals. She recalled seeing a young refugee woman whose family had brought her to a local hospital, where the refugee woman was made to wait outside until she was ready to deliver and then sent back to the refugee camp immediately after her baby was born. “There are so many patients we tell, ‘You need to go to a hospital for this, this is serious,’ and every single time the answer is, ‘We just went,’ ‘We were there yesterday,’ or ‘We went last week’ and ‘They refused to care for us, they just pushed us out the door,’” Ruebke said. Her Facebook page, on which Ruebke is posting daily updates about her work in the camps, includes several other stories of refugees struggling to receive necessary medical care at Turkish hospitals. Ruebke also solicits donations to her GoFundMe page on Facebook and has been asking for additional medical professionals – particularly a dentist, a chiropractor and an ear, nose and throat doctor – to come to Izmir. Also frustrating to Ruebke is the lack of basic resources in the camps. Ruebke said she and the other volunteers treat dozens of refugees suffering from diarrhea and other illnesses as a result of unclean or fertilizer-contaminated water. Earlier this week, though, she announced a partnership on her Facebook page with the nonprofit Waves for Water to bring water filtration systems to the camps. When Ruebke and her fellow MedVint volunteers arrive at a camp, she said they begin by treating women and their children, as the women will not talk about female-specific health problems in front of the men. The work can be slow, as they have to talk to all the refugees through their translator. Though the Syrian refugees speak Arabic, she said they sometimes see Kurdish refugees who do not, in which case they have to find someone in the camp who speaks Kurdish and Arabic to translate for their translator. Ruebke and the other volunteers take a day off every seven to nine days to recuperate from long days in the camps, but struggle to enjoy the breaks when they know people need their help. She recalled a trip to the ocean on one of their first days off when the volunteers went to the seaside to swim and enjoy the beach, but could not stop thinking about the refugees they had been treating. “We remembered that those were really the same waters where thousands of refugees have perished trying to reach freedom,” she said. “It was hard to keep enjoying the water after that.” Though it has been an eventful several weeks for Turkey, Ruebke said recent incidents have not affected her work much. Izmir is far from the Istanbul airport where suicide bombers detonated explosives in June, and unrest related to an attempted military coup last week did not stop her and her team from getting out to the camps. “She’s not afraid of anything, which comes in handy in situations like this,” Hope Ruebke said. For Michelle Ruebke, the hardest part will be leaving on Aug. 3 at the end of her six-week trip. The MedVint doctor and nurse who were in Izmir when she first arrived have already left, replaced by new volunteers. “The team is constantly fluctuating, but we try to have an overlap so that we can pass information and the need for follow-up care along before we leave,” she said. “Still, the situation is really worse than I imagined when I came, and leaving with it still being just as bad is difficult.” Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article91614707.html#storylink=cpy
I just received this from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Report written by Maren Wickwire. I hope it gives you an insight into the strength and determination of the people fleeing war. Majid and his wife, Shadan, along with their children, Rose (7) and Baban (4), came to Chicago, Illinois, in January 2015. Originally from Kirkuk, a diverse city in northern Iraq, they are grateful for the opportunity to live in the United States, where they have found safety for the first time in many years. Life in Iraq was not easy. “They will not allow you to name your children with Kurdish names,” Majid says. “Even the house, they will not allow you to have it under your name. You should change your nationality. But many people don’t like the idea. It is very hard to change, even if it is just a piece of paper. Inside, it is that God created me Kurdish. So why should I change my nationality?” Majid worked for an American non-governmental organization (NGO) in Iraq, where he helped people in need.
“I was working with the refugees. Because of the war in other cities, they were moving to my city. We gave them aid and we gave them assistance. Also, I was helping victims of the tragic car bombings and those who lost their property because of violence. We went there, we repaired their shops, we gave them grants.”But as the danger of living in Kirkuk increased and many of his friends were killed by car bombings, Majid knew his family could no longer live safely in Iraq. Majid and Shadan dreamed of safety and a good education for their children. “This was our number one dream,” he says from his adopted city, Chicago. “They have a good education here, they will go to a good school, they have a better life than what we had. And we feel safe. It is a terrible feeling when you go outside in my country, Iraq. You never know when there could be a car bombing.” It took four years for Majid and his family to clear all the required steps for resettlement. They made the dangerous trip twice to Baghdad for interviews at the United States Embassy. Many of the roads they drove on were controlled by armed groups. When they finally found out they had been approved for resettlement, Majid says “the moment was like a light.” “It is like a hope, it is like a new life. Few people get this opportunity. You cannot imagine this moment you go to the United States and live there.” Majid was determined to find work as soon as they arrived in the USA. He sought help from a refugee resettlement agency in his new community. “I went there and I said, ‘Please find me a job, I am sick of being at home’.” After two months, Majid found work at Federal Mogul, an auto parts company, and has been working the second shift ever since. He is happy that he is able to provide for his family again. In addition to work, Majid and his family are seeking to improve their lives through education, with hopes for a bright future. Both Rose and Baban love going to school and are improving their English while making new friends. Shadan attends daily English language classes and is working towards becoming a history teacher. Majid plans to study NGO management and apply lessons learned from his fieldwork in Kirkuk. New environments bring new challenges, but Majid encourages his family and other refugees to persevere. “It’s tough, but stay positive and focus on your goal,” he says. “It takes time, but eventually you’ll make it.” Majid and his family can now live safely and feel proud of their Kurdish identity. “When you have contact with another nation, with another human, another different people, you feel that everyone is equal. They are looking at you not according to your background, religion, or your skin, or your things. Everyone deals with you very normal, like a human.”