Up until recently, Syria had been a faraway country for Ole Hengelbrock that he only knew from the news. Now, the young man from Hamburg is actively involved in humanitarian aid in Syria’s neighbour country of Lebanon as a volunteer. Photo: humedica
About eyes, ears and love
A report by assistant coordinator Ole Hengelbrock
“Just two weeks ago, I was sitting in my favourite café in the Hanseatic city of Hamburg and diligently working on my bachelor thesis. When writing the last section, I got stuck for words and couldn’t continue. So I allowed myself a compulsory break and flicked through the newspapers. The current events in Syria were mentioned in every issue: there is war. What does that mean? I realize that for me it is so hard to imagine having to leave one’s home or not being able to sit in a café, peacefully enjoying a cup of tea!
I remember that I did not add any further sentence to my thesis on that day. The reason for this was that I received a call from the humedica head office. Up to that day, I had perceived Syria as a Middle East country that is trying to overthrow a dictator; a violent escalation of the Arab Spring; a debris field portrayed in You Tube videos. I had not been able to grasp what was happening in Syria. For me, Syria had just been a synonym used by the media to report on war.
Now I am sitting on the roof of a house in the Lebanese town of Zahlé, looking onto Bekaa valley. The setting sun is throwing her last rays on the chain of mountains opposite the town. Behind these mountains lies Syria. The country that seems so far away to me. The war that is so hard to imagine for me.
Already in September 2012, humedica started a medical aid project for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Now I have become part of the project myself. As an assistant coordinator, I accompany the medical teams to the refugee camps, innumerable tents spread throughout Bekaa valley. According to the UNHCR, up to 1.405.000 people have fled from Syria so far. Each one of them has their individual story to tell, a story of escape, of war and fear.
As the roads are getting bumpier, we are approaching the refugee camps. They are located outside the town adjoining potato or salad fields. It is there that the refugees have the greatest chances of finding work. We stop at the numerous different camps alternately so that we can offer medical treatment in every camp at intervals of two or three weeks.
Through the rear mirror I can see the road dust swirling behind us. The sun is blazing down on us. Driving past, we can hear children greeting us with “Salam”. Each camp constitutes a closed arrangement of 30 to 100 families. The impressions I get seem contradictory.
On the one hand, numerous satellite dishes, corresponding to the number of families, promise a well-regulated power supply. On the other hand, the excrements and the rubbish scattered in the adjoining stream are evidence of destructiveness. Also the people behave differently. While some of them calmly observe our arrival, waiting patiently, others are rushing wildly towards us, their individual voices merging into one common, predominant sound.
In each camp, a tent is put at our disposal, where the doctors can practise. When everything is set up and my colleagues start giving treatment, I take the time to meet and talk to the people in front of the tent.
People are very outgoing here and I quickly become the centre of the children’s curiosity. I can feel ingenuous fingers touching my arms and legs; eyes focus on my identification badge. My attempts at speaking Arab are answered with enthusiasm: „وما هو اسمك اسمي اولي“: “My name is Ole, what’s your name?”
Smiling people with beautiful big, dark eyes, introduce themselves to me. They teach me the Arab words for eye, mouth, nose and ear, for love and the numbers from one to ten. This is followed by a strong-voiced “one, two, three, …” We all clap and nothing needs to be added in this moment.
After getting into contact, I wander round the camp taking a closer look at the refugees’ everyday life. The tents have a stable wood scaffolding. Some of the interior walls are even decorated with tapestry. Three to four mattresses are lying on the floor and in some tents I can even spot a stove. People often ask me to come in. I try to cut a good figure while sitting cross-legged and drinking quite strong coffee. Still, I can sense some amused comments about my clumsy body.
The tents are very close to one another so that the air is stifling. You are never alone; there is a continuous hustle and bustle around you. A water tank is usually placed at the centre of each camp. Here people drink, do their laundry, stop for a while. After having spent some time in the middle of this hustle I withdraw from the scene and observe what is going on away from the centre of action.”
In the second part of “The duty of the heart”, you are welcome to find out what Ole Hengelbrock experiences in the background of the camp and what is the role of torchbearers and princes in this world. Please support us in our aid efforts for the Syrian refugees by making a specific donation. Heartfelt thanks.
humedica e. V.
Reference “Syrian Refugees”
Account 47 47
Bank Code 734 500 00
SWIFT-Code: BYLA DE M1 KFB