The bombs in Rasha’s hometown were unrelenting. Off in the distance, loud booms hastened a violent quaking underfoot. The bombs came closer, one after another. Her home rumbled and shook. Beside her, as the blasts amplified, her 3-year-old son Ahmed held her tightly and screamed.
“Mom, we’re dying – we’re dying, mom!”
All she could do was stand stone-footed, unable to move.
This was 2014, when Rasha, her husband, and her two children decided they had to leave Syria. They packed up what they could and left, knowing that if they leave soon they might never be able to. The family rushed to find safety and were among the last families allowed to cross legally before Lebanon closed its borders.
At the height of the mass displacement, more than 10,000 people a week were crossing the border from Syria to Lebanon. The magnitude of the displacement placed strains on an already fragile country.
Rasha, a Syrian refugee, works as a Refugee Outreach Volunteer, educating families in her settlement community in Lebanon about the dangers of diseases.
In 2014, Lebanon decided to close its borders, a move intended to stabilize or even reduce the number of displaced Syrians whose numbers had grown to nearly one million. Despite the border closure, motivated Syrians found other means of seeking refuge, often by risking their lives along smuggling routes.
Rasha’s in-laws were such a family. Failing to escape Syria before Lebanon shut its borders, they spent more than 12 hours scrambling over the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, a natural border between the two countries, to reach Lebanon.
The entire family was reunited in Lebanon. They now live in the same informal settlement on the edge of farmland.
A Settlement of Broken Hearts
A boy walks through the muddy expanse of a settlement in Lebanon. Settlements are breeding grounds for diseases, places where people suffering from chronic conditions suffer complications from the unhygienic environment.
Settlement life is hard, Rasha says.
The summers are sweltering; the winters bitingly cold. The family’s sole shelter is little more than tarps and tin crudely fashioned into something resembling a permanent structure. This ramshackle home has housed as many as 20 people at once. Despite these circumstances, Rasha refuses to yield to a broken spirit. Every day, she demonstrates how resilience can rise from the depth of hardship.
For Rasha, her heart beats for the heartbroken. Their suffering is hers.
She’s been through war, felt her child’s tiny fingers clasp hers and scream out in terror. She’s had friends and neighbors die on the street. She’s seen pain in others – and lived it herself.
“We’ve all lost friends, family, our home, our land,” Rasha says, her face registering deep sorrow. She trails off, leaving a lingering silence.
To help her neighbors, Rasha works as a senior Refugee Outreach Volunteer. She educates her neighbors about proper hygiene and health practices and directs them to medical facilities when they’re sick.
“It’s a way to meet others and give useful information,” Rasha says. “Some people have the wrong information. And giving the wrong (information) or responding incorrectly in certain situations can be very dangerous. But now I’m able to change that.”
Working with Medical Teams, Rasha is the first line of defense against disease outbreaks and the worsening of chronic illnesses. Through her tender spirit, dedication to service, and eagerness to learn, loving care has come to some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Without it, families would have nowhere to turn.
Trauma Felt at Home
Because Rasha feels supported, she’s turned her attention to others – especially those closest to her. With the love only a mother can feel, she watches over her 7-year-old son. Although the sounds of bombs exploding no longer punctuate the quiet night air, they remain a vivid memory for the young boy.
His wounds are hidden. They manifest themselves as nightmares. He has trouble talking about what he remembers or how he feels. He is like other children in the settlement who may not recall all the details but nonetheless remember what brought them to Lebanon.
Soon, Medical Teams will introduce a mental health expert into the camp to provide therapy sessions. Refugees like little Ahmed face a tremendous dilemma, struggling to cope with deep-seeded psychological trauma. Ensuring access to these services is of utmost importance in a setting where people are pushed to the margins.
Your support helps ensure that Rasha can continue assisting her neighbors, people who have spent years living in crisis. It will also bring much-needed mental health support to young people whose wounds are deeply imprinted on their psyches.