by Katy Johnson
Belinda Bauman and Alyce Dailey are leading a team of mothers to honor refugee mothers of Syria. This is the first of a series of blogs presented by members of the team.
Day One in Bekka Valley brings our first visit to an informal refugee camp. When it comes to refugee settlements, the word “informal” carries a clear connotation. These are camps set up outside the purview of the U.N., which means these are camps where safety, clean water, access to food, protection from civil unrest and accountability for landlords are not taken into consideration, let alone guaranteed. These are camps where Syrian refugees in Lebanon find themselves even more vulnerable and exposed.
Today, Mother’s Day, we conduct our first meeting with a young mother. 18, pregnant, wide-eyed yet wise, she embodies the reality of many of the refugees currently residing in Lebanon.
Welcomed as guests into her tent—home to her husband’s extended family—we sip a taste of the land she has fled: Syrian tea served sweet and steaming. Gathered around her, we savor and we listen while our host shares her story of arrival and temporary settlement in Lebanon.
Hers is a story of scattering—family spread desperately thin, like the remnants of oil scraped across an empty bowl of hummus. Sent to Lebanon to marry her fiancé, our host tells us that in the violence she has lost contact with her parents and brothers. Their displacement stretches across both Syria and the Middle East, and we have no sense of how likely it is the family will find one another again. Furthermore, as former residents of the now decimated Homs, they can never return to the home that they knew.
Yet our host also wants us to hear that hers is a story of new life—shining forth most clearly in her bright and darling toddler. We all find ourselves taken with the baby girl’s almond shaped eyes and quizzical brows, features she clearly has inherited from her mother.
There’s too much to speak in such a quick gathering, and at moments our host finds herself a bit lost for words. When we say we are here to help, she asks if we are from Canada.
“America,” we reply. My heart quivers as I see her countenance fall. These days, American citizenship in a refugee camp is enough to make my face flush red and my heart feel shame.
We tell her we long to share her story, and we ask her what she needs us to take back to our home. What do people need to know about her life? Our host speaks with clarity and conviction, all her words spoken for the sake of the baby cuddled nearby and the one she still carries within her.
“My daughter looks at the planes overhead and tells my husband, ‘Daddy, we should fly away from here.’” Our host continues by sharing her fear that her daughter will share her own fate and find herself stripped away from her family by war.
Instead, this young mother longs to take her family to a land of greater safety and freedom than her own life has known. She shares that her daughter talks about being a doctor, and that she longs to offer her child that opportunity.
But she cannot do it alone.
Syrian mothers around Lebanon and the world are aching for their children to live out the hope found on the other side of refuge. That story starts as we support work on the ground where the needs are most urgent in Syria and Lebanon through Together, For the Family. To learn more about the projects needing funding, visit One Million Thumbprints.
We left pondering our young mother’s final plea: “If you want to forget everything about this visit, don’t forget my daughter needs a better future. If there is any way you can do this, help. Help.”