Sending Solidarity - Finding Hope and Courage
During a late May visit to the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon, Pax Christi International Co-President Marie Dennis and Secretary General José Henríquez delivered solidarity messages sent to the people of Syria from around the world. The messages represented many hundreds of people who participated in Pax Christi’s Bread Is Life: Solidarity Fast for Syria campaign.
Because the Lebanese government has not established and run collective hosting facilities or refugee camps on its soil, and because of the enormous flow of refugees into the country, thousands of Syrian families have been forced to rent whatever place they could find to shelter their families: apartments, rooms, and, in many cases, garages or makeshift rooms with cardboard walls. Kindly accompanied by a young Jesuit, Fadi, the Pax Christi delegation visited many who were living in impossibly crowded conditions.
Fadi and a group of young Syrian professionals – also refugees, have established a small community center for Syrian women aimed to fill some gaps left by humanitarian aid agencies. Called Basmeh & Zeitooneh (Smile & Olive), the center helps newly arrived families find a place to live and provides them with basic necessities, psychological support for children, and connections to essential medical care. The center was opened shortly before the Pax Christi delegation visited. In addition to messages of solidarity, they also delivered monetary contributions for the Syrian people received during the campaign. The day of the visit women were learning embroidery; they plan to sell their products in order to support their families.
The young Syrians explained how they had participated in the non-violent demonstrations back in 2011 but a few months later they were forced by threats and unmitigated violence to leave their country. They are committed professionals, supporting their own people as they all struggle to live their lives as refugees. Despite the adverse conditions and the complexity of the ongoing armed conflict in their country, they still have hope in Syria’s future.
Syrians are enduring horrific suffering, both inside Syria and in most locations outside the country. According to the United Nations, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq are now hosting over 1.5 million Syrian refugees and an additional 4.25 million Syrians are displaced internally. The real numbers are probably much higher.
Some Syrian cities have been almost entirely reduced to rubble, and widespread power disruptions have left countless communities without access to water. Almost a third of all houses across the country have been damaged or destroyed. Yet, Syrians at home and in neighboring countries have demonstrated enormous courage and generosity.
When Pax Christi members met Syrian refugees in Jordan last December, their message was a plea that the world not forget them; Pax Christi’s Fast during Lent was a small gesture of solidarity in response. Some women in the center cried when they listened to the messages sent by people around the world. They got to know that many of us have not forgotten them.
Pax Christi will continue to seek additional ways to respond, advocating for consistent diplomatic efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria and promoting relief for and solidarity with the millions of Syrians whose lives have been so tragically disrupted.