Just when it seems like the situation in Syria can’t get any worse, it does, said Sarah Adams, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) representative for Syria and Lebanon.
Whole villages are being displaced as the two-year-old armed conflict escalates between government and opposition forces, she said. Resources of Syrians to help those who have left their homes are becoming increasingly scarce because those who had resources to help others at the beginning of the crisis, now have nothing to give.
Unemployment figures and costs of basic goods have also continued to rise, causing even those still in their homes to struggle to meet daily needs. Kidnappings have increased, sometimes for religious reasons, but more often for money, said Adams, who is from Westerville, Ohio, and is based in Beirut, Lebanon.
In late April, two orthodox bishops were kidnapped, one of whom was Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church. He has worked closely with MCC in Aleppo, coordinating the current MCC-funded emergency response to provide food, hygiene supplies, clothing and other support to families in the city. MCC also has a Global Family education program with one of the churches in his diocese.
Ibrahim and Bishop Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church of Aleppo have yet to be released more than a month after they were abducted. This situation has increased fear among the Christian community in Syria and emigration of Christians from the country, Adams said
As increasing numbers of Syrians seek shelter in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, the needs of the host communities keep growing as well. MCC has been working hand-in-hand with partner organizations that work with refugees in these countries.
“There is much, much more work to be done,” said Don Peters, executive director of MCC Canada, who visited Lebanon in early April. “This is an ongoing disaster. The United Nations agencies haven’t yet kicked in with the amount of assistance that these people need. And other agencies, such as MCC, are going to have to continue their support.”
In response, MCC is asking for cash donations to reach its new fundraising goal of $1.5 million. MCC began its Syria crisis campaign last year with an initial goal of $500,000. The total of donations has now surpassed $1.3 million.
“In total, counting Canadian Foodgrains Bank contributions, donated material resources and other sources, giving has been leveraged into almost $6.3 million for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and peacebuilding in the region,” said MCC U.S. executive director J Ron Byler.
“MCC is one of the few organizations actually providing assistance in Syria itself,” he said. “We are humbled by that knowledge, and by the generous support of our donors.”
While the bulk of MCC’s work has been in humanitarian assistance, Peters said MCC also is assisting by providing training for partner agencies that aid displaced Syrians and supporting peacebuilding programs, including trauma recovery.
Peters says his trip gave him a new appreciation of the value of these programs. He had a unique opportunity to meet with church leaders and other partners from Syria, who were able to travel to Lebanon for a few days. Peters said they are courageous people, working in risky and difficult conditions.
“What really struck me was that maybe half of the people we met were themselves displaced from their homes. And yet they are still caregivers for others. They said, ‘This is our situation now and this is what we need to do.’ Their dignity and poise is remarkable.”