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| Mar 15, 2016
Originally posted on the Resilire Blog by Roger and Rebecca Sandberg about Roger's time with Medical Teams International working with Syrian refugees.
"My dreams and hopes are gone for now, but my family is together. We are safe--that is all that matters."
The book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, by Andrew Zolli gives readers a framework for how to support systems and people in the ever-changing landscape of our disrupted age and volatile planet. Zolli defines resilience as “the capacity of a system, enterprise, or person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances."
The war in Syria has, in fact, dramatically changed the circumstances of millions of people’s lives. This is not unlike so many other geographic locations where change has occurred due to man-made or natural disasters. And yet, the people impacted keep going. In Sudan and South Sudan, for instance, people who have lived through multiple conflicts over many decades still plant gardens and try to establish churches and schools. In Haiti, after the 2010 earthquake, families and communities slept in the streets and together carried rubble. Orphaned street-children in Nepal resumed math class under a tree in Kathmandu after their school building was damaged in an earthquake. An Iraqi nun who fled her village and found safety when ISIS attacked immediately began serving the sick and the hungry in the courtyard of a church. I visited several refugee settlements recently in Lebanon. I witnessed yet again the incredible resilience of people, young and old, whom against incredible odds find resilience through community, acceptance, and hope.
Many Syrian refugees who fled Syria three and four years ago still carry their house-keys in their pockets. This is a constant reminder of hope: hope to return home, hope for their children, and hope for peace.
In Lebanon the vast majority of the one million Syrian refugees live in makeshift tented shelters made of billboard canvas. These shelters are clustered together on private farmland in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. In these situations, families, from the same towns, and sometimes even the same neighborhoods, band together. While life as a refugee in Lebanon looks and feels very little like Syria, familiarity can be found within community.
Acceptance and hope --two sides to the same coin-- are the other two attributes I often encounter among those displaced in conflict. Among most, there is an acceptance that an external event such as war, an earthquake, or a typhoon, has created a great loss, and there also is a hope that things may someday return to how they once were. This acceptance is not defeatism, but rather an understanding that life has been turned upside down, and yet must continue. Six years ago, I sat with a man on a street in Haiti. It was ten days after the earthquake had flattened his home and his community. He stared at the pile of rubble and said, “After the earthquake we did not see how life would go on. We did not see how life could go on. But I realized that the sun rose this morning, and it will rise again tomorrow.”
In Lebanon, I met a young woman called Reem, a 22-year-old Syrian refugee living in a settlement. I sat on the floor of her family’s tented shelter. The outside was made of old billboard material and the inside was sparse but welcoming. We talked for a long time. Their hospitality was beautiful. I asked Reem about her hopes and dreams. She told me about her dream of getting a degree in computer engineering. She had been one semester away from finishing when three years prior the violence became too dangerous for her family and they fled. As she spoke to me, Reem’s face radiated a brave countenance.
Acceptance and hope --two sides to the same coin-- are the other two attributes I often encounter among those displaced in conflict.
“My dreams and hopes are gone for now,” she said, “but my family is together. We are safe--that is all that matters.”
Every day Reem picks and sells potatoes from the muddy field near the tented camp. Many Syrian refugees who fled Syria three and four years ago still carry their house-keys in their pockets. This is a constant reminder of hope: hope to return home, hope for their children, and hope for peace. Amidst dramatically changed circumstances, Reem’s family and many others are resilient and hopeful.
As Zolli continued to unpack his definition of resilience he made a strong connection between faith and resilience. He writes, “It should come as no surprise that people of faith report greater degrees of resilience.” I have seen this to be true. Scripture gives us a hope for peace. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
“The sun will rise again tomorrow.”
Roger Sandberg is director of Emergency Relief and Global Security for Medical Teams International (MTI). For 14 years, he has led emergency relief operations for International NGO’s such as Samaritan’s Purse International Relief, Medair, and Medical Teams International. Roger served as South Sudan Country Director, Democratic Republic of Congo Country Director, Haiti Country Director, and most recently has been part of the Syrian and Iraqi crisis. Roger earned his bachelor's degree from Wheaton College and an MBA from Rollins College. Rebecca Sandberg also earned her bachelor's at Wheaton College, and is the founder and adviser at Re:New, a non-profit that seeks to create space for refugee women to thrive.