|The Syrian Emergency: Three Years of War and Stolen Childhood|
West-Bekka, Lebanon - With March 15th only a few days away, one wishes they could say “Happy Birthday,” but unfortunately, three years after the beginning of the revolts, there isn't much to celebrate.
No trace remains of the kids who covered the walls with messages against the Assad regime or their free spirits. The dream of a society of justice and freedom has been pushed aside by a war that has caused more than 160,000 deaths and placed 9,300,000 people in urgent need of humanitarian aid. Of those in need, 2,600,000 have left their country to find refuge in Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey; many of them have gone to Jordan, or come here, to Lebanon, where I am writing from today.
In three years, we have gone from writing graffiti on the walls to the arrival of jihadists from all over the world. They are not fighting in the name of the Arab spring but with the fury of radical Islam, which not only burns crosses and other religious symbols, but instills fear in all those with different beliefs and opinions. We are the “infidels,” for whom decapitation, unfortunately, is a common fate.
The greatest human tragedy that’s occurred in the postwar period is now staring us in the face and as we approach it’s third “birthday", I want to look at it through the eyes of those who have suffered the most: the children living in inhumane conditions that we meet everyday working in Lebanon. Three years add up to 1,100 days away from home and 1,100 spent on a mattress laid on cement or bare ground. Three years equate to missing more than half of a primary cycle of schooling. In the past three years, these children have suffered the cold and the heat, lice on their head and hunger in their bellies. Their parents (if there are any remaining) were left without work, and the children were left without toys and food; eating a warm meal is a luxury, and eating three times a day is something our children only dream about if they sleep.
We are not commemorating three years of life, because this isn’t really living. Everything that surrounds us is violence, filth, poverty, struggles, and humiliation. In front of this crisis, what has AVSI done and what exactly are we doing today? Much less than we had hoped. Currently we are working in Lebanon and in Jordan with roughly 30,000 people. Soon we will be in Syria with the help of UNICEF, Echo, Cooperazione Italiana, and many families that have understood that what is taking place today on one side of the Mediterranean will eventually reach their own shores, on the other side of the same sea, and touch many other innocent lives.
Today, in a part of Lebanon called West-Bekka, we are launching a “cash for work” project that will give refugees jobs and pay. Yes, we will put them to work. We will help them earn money to buy the things they need and not simply purchase what the humanitarian world decides to provide. We believe that work, dignity and freedom go together. That’s why we have taken the road less traveled and that requires more effort than unloading trucks with humanitarian aid. We believe it is the only road left three years after the start of the war.
Also, on this very day, 50 kilometers away from the 150 refugees working here close by, more than 200 children will be in classes. In the afternoon, 170 of them will begin make up courses and 250 will participate in recreational and psycho-social activities. Each class and activity gives the possibility of recovering a normal childhood for a few hours each day. Each provides normalcy in a world where normalcy (for them and for many others) has all but vanished.
By Marco Perini, AVSI’s Country Representative in Lebanon
Originally published on March 11, 2014 for the Italian newspaper Avvenire
AVSI Syria Emergency Response Program carried out in Lebanon and in Jordan embraces the following sectors: cash transfer &livelihood, education, protection (GVB-Gender-Based Violence and child protection), Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), food and core relief items.
The main donors who supported the intervention are the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Civil protection Office (ECHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, AVSI partners and private donors.
AVSI’s activities to face the Syrian Crisis in 2013 reached: