Lightening the load
Providing relief and hope in Syria
Every morning, before Samer al Laham goes to work, he checks to make sure it’s safe to go outside. That’s because in Syria there are some days when “people wake up in the morning and then see that there are a lot of mortars falling,” says al Laham, country and program director with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner Middle East Council of Churches (MECC).
But mornings like that don’t halt work for long. “Maybe after a few hours when things become much more stable people begin going out and really doing their business,” he says.
That’s the unpredictable reality of life in Syria after more than four years of conflict. In Daraa, where one of MECC’s offices is located, they might only get water once or twice a week. Unreliable electricity means they need generators to charge computers and cell phones, and deliveries of relief supplies are more expensive because of high gas prices.
And yet hours after mortars have fallen, MCC’s local partners head back to work.
In this difficult context, MECC continues to provide much needed humanitarian relief to both internally displaced people and the communities hosting them. “We know that we are working in a risky situation, but at the same time keeping our presence in difficult places like Daraa gives an indirect hope to people who are still living there,” says al Laham.
Since 2012 MCC has partnered with MECC in Syria to distribute items such as hygiene supplies, blankets, winter clothing and heaters. In Daraa Gonoverate from June to September MECC provided hygiene kits, children’s clothing and feminine hygiene supplies to 4,300 households. These distributions were done with a $1.5 million grant from the Government of Canada.
Those items help to lighten the load for people who fled the conflict and have been living for years with limited resources. “Children are growing up every year and they need new clothing, and clothing becomes very expensive and this [distribution] can alleviate the economic burden,” says al Laham.
In countries like Syria it’s only through partnerships with local organizations that MCC is able to do this work. Local partners understand and work within security constraints, and also have longstanding connections in communities like Daraa. “We have good relations with everybody,” says al Laham. “The added value we provide to our beneficiaries is really the trust we built over the last few years.”
Part of that relationship is getting input from people receiving the supplies. MECC has an extensive database documenting the needs of each family registered with them. They also have volunteers who are displaced themselves that consult with others and report back about what the needs are.
This makes sure that MCC’s programs with MECC are providing what people actually need, says al Laham, “the cornerstone of our program is to depend on people who are really living in the hardship conditions, and really to know exactly what kind of support they need.”
Those needs continue to grow faster than the resources are available. You can support MCC’s local partners in this important work; the Government of Canada will match donations from individual Canadians to relief work in Syria made before Dec. 31. Donate online to MCC’s Syria and Iraq crisis response, or call toll-free 1-888-622-6337.
—Emily Loewen is a writer for MCC Canada.
View this story on MCC’s website here.