“Do you want to be my new mum?”

by Carolin Gißibl, 2015/07/03

As a coordinator, Carolin Gißibl has been committed at our various projects in Lebanon. She has brought many touching experiences back home to Germany. One of these she has summarized in this story.

“A young girl is awkwardly standing at the entry of the refugees’ tent. Her small hands are nervously playing with one of her two plaits. Cautiously she toddled into the tent; she seems to be confused by the hustle and bustle. The dusty tent is full of people. At the left side, there are three brown plastic tables, behind each of them a doctor is sitting on a chair; at the right side two pharmacists are distributing medicine to patients who have already been treated.

The team of the German help organization humedica is providing free medical care for all inhabitants of the refugee camp. A Syrian family is putting their living space at their disposal, consisting of about ten square meters made of wooden poles and white plastic foil cast over them. In front of the tent, dozens of refugees are queuing in the dusty heat. There are mostly mothers with their five, six, not rarely even fifteen children.

Lost generation

The small girl sees me, smiles and comes running towards me. We already know each other, as I have been playing football with some children a few minutes ago. A German doctor and I had decided to bring a ball into each of the refugee camps. Because we haven’t seen any toys there, yet.

The children rather rummage around in the waste, in order to look for anything which could divert them for a moment. Then, they don’t thing about all the terrible images, the cries of the people pleading for their lives and quivering with agony when others kicked them; they don’t think about the time when they were so hungry that, in the end, they had to cook their cat. All these are accounts we had to listen to during the last days.

The ball will probably not stay intact for a long time, but at least the children are busy and are enjoying themselves for a short time! Because the flight from Syria often means for them that they cannot go to school any longer. The Lebanese government, as well as international institutions in the country (help organizations, institutions) are struggling hard to render school education possible for the refugee children. However, the 1,124 informal tent settlements in the Lebanese Bekaa valley alone (an area smaller than Upper Franconia) represent an enormous challenge. Moreover, there is the language barrier with the Syrian children, as in their home country they have been taught in Arabic, whereas in Lebanon they teach in English.

According to the children’s help association UNICEF, 7.5 million Syrian children are dependent on humanitarian aid. Many of them have got no prospects – a whole generation whose future was taken away by the war. Followers of the IS know this situation and infiltrate the camps.

“Do you want to become my new mum?”

I bow down to the little girl: “What’s your name?” I ask her in my broken Arabic and look for her mother, who is probably waiting for her. She answers with a shy smile, which means she doesn’t understand me. A humedica Field Officer, who is regulating the rush on the “doctors’ tent” and who is responsible for the registration of the patients, sees my efforts to communicate with the little girl. He kneels down and translates from the Arabic.

I take her hand and tell her that my name is “Caro”, I ask for her name and age and ask her, if she is waiting for her mother. Her name is Elisa, she is five years old and her mother is dead, she replies concisely. She has seen, how she was killed, she adds with a firm voice. For a moment this took my breath away. I am stunned. I hadn’t anticipated an answer like this one.

At the same time, I am angry about my tactlessness of asking a war child about her parents. Elisa continues talking. Her fine voice closely touches me and I admire the strength and frankness with which she tells us, how men had entered their house, had torn away her mother despite her cries and implorations. They had dragged her to the door and shot her into her head.

The last thing she had seen was that they had seized her mother’s legs and dragged her over the tarmac. The Field Officer and I are kneeling in front of her, completely frozen. What’s the best thing to do now? Apparently, children have got a better feeling for these things. She takes my hand and puts it on her head. When she fell down playing football, I had stroked her head. I suppose, this is a sign to continue. She smiles and asks: “Do you want to become my new mum?”

Escape into hardship

Because of the civil war in Syria, life stories like Elisa’s have become sad everyday life. For many people, misery continues, as the makeshift construction of the camps doesn’t provide any protection against sexual or violent assaults. At the moment, there are 1.2 million registered (!) refugees in Lebanon, a country which has only got 4.8 million inhabitants itself and the surface of which is only half of the surface of Hessen.

Furthermore, there are 300,000 Palestinian refugees. The estimated number of unregistered Syrians is probably much higher. Half of the refugees are children. They live in decentralized tent settlements not far away from the Syrian border, where you can hear bombs and shooting in the night, depending on the wind direction. They live there on a few square meters, only separated by plastic foils, they sleep on the soil, cook without any kitchen, they have no sanitary installations.

In summer time, the tents are much too hot, in winter time the children freeze in their flip-flops. They must pay a rent to the landowners for these makeshift accommodations. This is an obstacle and that is why most of them need to work in the fields daily – despite illness, war injuries, pregnancy or minority. Many of the field workers are children. They earn five US-dollars a day, minus 2.5 dollars for the placement officer and another dollar for the driver, who brings them to work every day.

Child labor for the rent of the tent

When the transporter comes back to the camp in the late afternoon today, they jump from the truck in droves, laugh and are excited, as the doctors are on-site. Many of them go directly into the tent. Most of them suffer from backache because of the hard work. A 17-year-old is eight months pregnant and asks for painkillers, so she could continue working. The doctors can only advise her not to do it, they cannot control – it is a wearing job. Particularly, as the government only allows basic medical care by the NGOs.

The refugees must not be better off that the Lebanese themselves. The humedica team treats 3,500 patients a month. The ten staff members are mostly Lebanese. A German coordinator is always on-site and, from time to time, a German specialist comes along. Respiratory problems, skin rash, worm infections and enuresis because of the traumata have been the most frequent diagnoses today. The team must drive back, before nightfall.

In the evening, from my apartment I am looking at the “Anti-Lebanon”, as is called the mountain chain, which separates Lebanon from Syria. The sun is setting and is drawing a pictorial red on the idyll. Every day anew, it is completely incomprehensible for me that life here seems to be completely normal, while a hideous war is raging only 15 km away.

I go to bed full of gratefulness and humbleness for the precious encounters and that I am allowed to gain experiences. Outside I hear a bang: “Certainly, that’s only fireworks”, I think. And I hope that all the terrible moments would not catch up with Elisa and the many other traumatized children and that they would not fearfully tremble in their tents.”

It is a moving report, which Carolin Gißibl has brought back from Lebanon. It shows, once again, how difficult the situation of the refugees in Lebanon is, but also anywhere else. At the moment, 59.5 million people worldwide are fleeing. It is also our responsibility, to influence their situation positively, to help practically, but at the same time also to point out the reasons for the problem.

Today, we are kindly asking you for your directed support for the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Thank you very much!

      humedica e. V.
      Stichwort "Flüchtlinge Libanon"
      IBAN DE35 7345 0000 0000 0047 47
      BIC BYLADEM1KFB
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

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