AKRON, Pa. – As international efforts are under way to convince warring parties in Syria to gather for peace talks in Geneva on Jan. 22, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is releasing an additional $200,000 to help Syrian families get through the winter.
The winter months bring increased needs for heating oil, shelter and warm clothing for families whose own resources have been depleted or destroyed after almost three years of war. More than 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced inside the country, often multiple times, and more than 2.3 million refugees live in neighboring countries.
In the past two years, MCC has allocated $15.3 million in emergency food, shelter, household items, education support, resources, and peacebuilding and disaster response training in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. MCC works with partner organizations that help both Christians and Muslims in need.
These additional funds will pay for cash vouchers for 900 families in Syria, extending existing support through March. Vouchers give families the freedom to determine how to meet their needs for food, clothes, fuel or shelter. In addition, MCC will be adding a service worker to its staff in Lebanon.
“This has helped to give them hope and the ability to plan a little better and to support the most vulnerable in the cold, winter months,” said Naomi Enns, MCC representative for Syria and Lebanon with her spouse, Doug Enns. The Ennses are from Winnipeg, Man.
The work of MCC’s partners in Syria has become increasingly dangerous in recent months. The formerly safe areas where their efforts and supplies were based have come under attack, and distribution of humanitarian supplies was temporarily disrupted. Three staff members of partner organizations have been killed by violence in Syria.
“We are humbled by our partners who are risking their safety day after day, month after month, to share messages of hope,” said Ann Graber Hershberger, chair of the MCC U.S. Board of Directors. “The new funds we’ve released from our budget are a continued expression of MCC’s desire to share God’s love and compassion for all.”
One reason for hope, according to Riad Jarjour, president of MCC partner Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue, is the upcoming Geneva II peace talks. The Syrian government and the main Syrian opposition group tentatively have agreed to meet for dialogue with the support of other nations.
“For most Syrians, the conflict and crisis creates a reality fraught with poverty, the threat of starvation and the constant uncertainty of when and where violence will erupt,” said Jarjour. “The hope of Geneva II remains one of the few sources of optimism for the cessation of violence and move toward peace.”
Until the violence is stopped, humanitarian needs will continue to grow, said Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, director of the MCC U.S. Washington Office. For the past year, she and other MCC U.S. staff have been advocating with government officials and legislators for the U.S. to stop sending weapons to the Syrian opposition.
Currently the U.S. is sending a mixed message, she said. Although government officials have said they support the upcoming Geneva II peace talks, the U.S. continues to support the armed opposition in Syria, Lyndaker Schlabach said.
“Rather than putting energy into efforts that lessen the likelihood of a positive outcome at Geneva II, the U.S. should cease its support for military activities and wholeheartedly support efforts to reach political solutions,” said Lyndaker Schlabach. To learn how you can help, visit washington.mcc.org.
Linda Espenshade is MCC U.S. News Coordinator.