WINNIPEG, Man. – Alarmed by the continuing violence in Syria and consistent reports that unrest is likely to escalate and spread to neighbouring countries in the coming months, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has begun preparing for a humanitarian crisis in the region.
About 20,000 Syrians have already fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and the flow of people is increasing, said Rick Janzen, a director of MCC’s programs in the Middle East.
MCC has launched a $500,000 Middle East Crisis appeal to assist partner organizations as they provide humanitarian aid and build peace. At this point MCC’s response includes:
1. Emergency assistance – food, medicine and non-food items for Syrians affected by violence and in need of basic supplies.
2. Relief kits – people in the U.S. and Canada are encouraged to assemble kits and drop them off at their nearest MCC office or warehouse.
3. Building peace – grassroots, community efforts that encourage conflict prevention.
Janzen, who travels often to the Middle East and visited Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Palestine in early February, said he was startled by the heightened fears of sectarian violence and political unrest across the Middle East.
“Everywhere we went, we heard outlooks for the future that were devastating and ominous,” said Janzen, who lives in Winnipeg. “Now is the time to put our peace theology to work; our partners are calling on us to support their efforts at conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
“One of our partners from Lebanon looked us squarely in the eye and asked: ‘Are you peace ambassadors or not? If you are, this is the time to act.'”
A significant part of MCC’s response will assist partner organizations in Lebanon to expand efforts that strengthen conflict prevention strategies and disaster preparedness. This includes training women peacebuilders, media training, encouraging dialogue among young leaders, trauma training and more.
MCC has been working in the Middle East for more than 60 years and currently supports peace and development work in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Palestine and Israel.
Donations are welcome and should be marked Middle East Crisis. For more information about assembling relief kits please call your nearest MCC office or visit mcc.org/kits/relief. Go to mcc.org/middleeastcrisis to hear a podcast with MCC staff reflecting on what they are hearing from MCC partners, and to see a prayer compiled from recent prayers by church leaders in Syria and Lebanon.
Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC Canada.