Working in the refugee settlements in Lebanon recently were, left to right, Caleb Jehl of Fort Wayne, and Gabe and Sam Jarjour of Leo. They took $4,800 with them to buy food and clothing for residents of the settlements.
Bagging rice, fava beans, lentils and bulgur wheat in 2-kilo bags for distribution to people in one of the settlements are Gabe and Sam Jarjour. They also distributed winter boots, diapers and baby sleeping bags, helped take a survey to be used by aid agencies, and participated in a Play with Purpose program for children.
Younger children, like this one with Gabe Jarjour, liked to be held. Older kids wanted to play and they wanted to test their English on the Americans.
By Rod King
For Times Community Publications
Three local men worked in several refugee settlements in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon in October, packaging and distributing food, passing out winter boots, painting a school, doing a house-to-house survey, playing games with children and hosting a cinema night.
The three, Caleb Jehl of Fort Wayne, and Sam and Gabe Jarjour of Leo, left Fort Wayne on Oct. 7 with $4,800 in money that had been raised locally with the specific goal of presenting it to Salam Lebanese Association for Development & Communication to buy food and supplies for people in the settlements.
Of that amount, $3,000 went to buy grain which they helped package in 2-kilo bags that they then distributed to the refugees. It included rice, fava beans, lentils and bulgur wheat. Each box of food also contained a liter of vegetable oil and a half-pound of salt. The funds also paid for the packaging for the food kits. Of the remaining money, $1,700 was used to buy winter clothing and $100 went toward the cost of a young girl’s cleft palate surgery.
“Lebanon has hundreds of refugee settlements,” Sam Jarjour said. “In fact, one in five people in Lebanon is a refugee; 1.5 million in all. The settlements stretch for miles. All you can see is Tyvek (U.N. sheeting) stretched over wood frames. Most of the people are from Syria and Palestine, and many fled Palestinian refugee camps in Syria because of the civil war to come to Lebanon.”
“Life is hard in the settlements,” Jehl said. “There is no internal plumbing, but water barrels are provided and there are port-a-potties. These settlements are much more organized than the transient ones we visited in Eastern Europe last year. The people are here for the long haul. Their main hope is that the war in Syria will end so they can go home. But even if it ends tomorrow, it could take from five to 20 years to bring things back to normal.
“We were all pretty much shocked at how resilient, industrious, enterprising and upbeat the people are. They do receive a small stipend from the United Nations but it doesn’t go very far. There are a lot of cottage industries helping supply necessities. One man operates a tailor shop in his home, while another has erected nets on his roof to catch and train pigeons. Shade-tree auto and motorcycle repair shops are everywhere.”
“One woman allowed us to use her very clean and tidy two-room home to distribute winter boots,” Sam Jarjour said. “We spent one day going door to door distributing food (mostly grain), diapers and baby sleeping bags, while helping people fill out a lengthy questionnaire that will be used by aid agencies to determine the needs of the families in the settlements. Later that day we participated in a Play with Purpose program designed to get kids playing games and exercising. Children were eager to use their rudimentary English on us.”
Gabe, an 18-year-old high school student, painted walls and helped clean up around a newly-built elementary school. “It’s amazing what they can do with what little they have,” he said. “Whenever we came into a settlement, the kids would flock around. They always had smiles on their faces. The younger ones wanted to be held and the older ones wanted to play. They had a lot of hope and optimism in their eyes, unlike their parents. One family we met had adopted three orphans of the Syrian civil war. The entire community was helping them support the additional kids. Really heart-warming.”
“This is my third time to work in refugee settlements,” said Jehl, who has worked twice in Eastern Europe. “It’s very humbling to return to this country where we are fortunate to have stability, jobs, education, peace and the opportunity to pursue the kind of life we want here in the world’s richest country. It has been life-changing for me. I no longer have tolerance for people in the United States who have the nerve to complain and only want to point out negatives. The people in those settlements have nothing but negatives and yet they manage to survive and still be positive.”
Though most of their time was spent in the settlements, they did have time to float in the Dead Sea, visit an ancient Roman temple (UNESCO World Heritage site), watch cliff divers at the Mediterranean Sea and drive through the mountains of Lebanon. They visited two of Sam Jarjour’s aunts (his parents immigrated to the U.S. from Syria in the 1950s) and a couple cousins that his son, Gabe, had never met. They also saw the high school that his grandfather and mother had attended.
In Hebron, they met a woman from Indianapolis who was working with Christian Peacekeepers. The organization provides escorts for local grade school and junior high school students. They help them safely get to and from school and protect them from harassment by religious zealots.
Persons wishing to donate to refugee relief can do so on the Salam Lebanese Association for Development & Communication website, salamladc.org. For photos of the local men’s trip, visit Facebook and search for Fort Wayne for Syrian Refugees.