Muslim Hands distributes winter relief to vulnerable communities all over the world. In February, Muslim Hands’ Digital Communications Editor, Tijen Horoz joined our field teams distributing blankets, mattresses, clothes and winter fuel to Syrian refugees in Southern Lebanon.
‘In Al Quaraoun camp sandwiched in between two snow-covered peaks in the Bekaa Valley, children are everywhere. Children of all ages, girls and boys, some blonde, some dark-haired, run around in the cold, wet mud. At first glance, it’s a normal enough scene. Except that these children are surrounded on all sides by white tents and all they are wearing to protect their little feet are plastic sandals.
As we are handing out sweets we are approached by Jumaa, a father of five we had been talking to earlier. He tells us about a woman who has been rushed to hospital with a serious heart condition. Her five children are left behind and we are taken to their tent to speak with them. We had intended to talk to the eldest daughter, but when we arrive at the tent she is too distraught to face us. We turn to leave, agreeing to find out more about the family from Jumaa. That’s when we spot Mohammad. He is stood looking shyly at us from just inside the entrance of his makeshift home.
I stop to talk to him.
He is 12 years old and he has been living in a tent for three years since his family were forced to flee their home in Homms. They packed their bags, took a bus to Damascus and from there, crossed over the border into Lebanon. They’ve been here in this camp ever since.
Their father is still missing in Syria. He couldn’t make the journey with them and now they don’t know where he is or whether he is even alive. Mohammad’s brother, Omar became the family’s main breadwinner at just 14 years of age. Now, a year on, Omar is like a father to Mohammad and he misses him when he is away working. To my privileged sensibilities it seems wrong that a teenage boy has to support a whole family, but what other choice is there? Without his meagre wage of £7 a day how would his mother and siblings scrape by? Mohammad’s mother hasn’t been the same since her husband went missing. His dark eyes look scared and helpless as he tells me she is always depressed and breaking down in tears which aggravates her heart condition. Spying the threadbare carpet that adorns the bare mud floor of their tent, I ask Mohammad how his family could afford hospital fees for their mother and am overwhelmed to learn that a collection within the camp has covered the fee. The generosity of the families here, despite what little they have, is shown through gestures as small as the offers of tea or coffee that are made to us when we visit each tent, to something as major as potentially saving a neighbour’s life.
Mohammad is attending the camp’s informal school which is supported by the Dutch Council for Refugees. This is a luxury his older brother cannot enjoy. Looking around me, I’m finding it hard to envision a future for this young victim of a conflict that has claimed more than 400,000 lives. But Mohammad remains hopeful. One day he wants to be a mechanic like his father. But most of all, he wants to return to Syria. ‘At least there we were in a home and not a tent’, he says.
Mohammad’s are one of many families around the world who have received winter relief from Muslim Hands. As I stand talking to him I can feel the temperature dropping as the day inches closer towards sunset. The mattresses, blankets, heating fuel and warm winter jackets that our donors have provided for the families of this camp gives me some small comfort.
I can see they are itching to start putting their items to use (Mohammad’s younger sister is already modelling her brand new pink coat!). So I bid them salaams and move on. Later that evening, the vision of Mohammad’s shy smile comes back to me and I wonder how he is finding his new-found warmth? When will his mother be returned to him? And when will he finally be able to go back home?’
Keep them warm, keep them alive. Donate to our Winter Appeal now
By Tijen Horoz, Senior Communications Editor