MCC’s help gives Syrians a reason to stay
By Linda Espenshade and Meghan Mast
As large numbers of Syrians are leaving the Middle East in search of better living situations in Europe and elsewhere, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is appealing for more funds to help meet basic human needs of Syrians who want to stay near their homes.
For the past four years, the war in Syria has forced its citizens to live on almost nothing, whether they managed to stay at home or move to safer Syrian towns or neighboring countries. Having lost family members, houses, jobs and their savings, they piece together a living with sporadic, low-income work and the resources provided by international aid organizations.
Now funding shortages are causing large agencies to reduce significantly the support they offer. The United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP), for example, stopped distribution of food vouchers for 360,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon in September. The value of the vouchers the agency does give has been reduced significantly, and more cuts are expected this fall.
Without these resources from WFP and other organizations, many Syrians face eviction and hunger that forces them to consider emigrating, says Rashid El Mansi, program manager at Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD), an MCC partner in Lebanon.
“These people—their first hope is to go back to Syria, back to the homeland, but actually now they are losing this hope. They are losing their dignity here,” El Mansi says. “They don’t have enough resources, so they think they want to go to the source of these organizations. Let’s go to those people who are helping us. Maybe they will see us better and take better care of us.”
However, El Mansi says, he also has met families that tell him if they could get enough services, they would not leave. They tell him, “We are closer here to our country. We don’t want to go and have a different culture. We want to keep our culture.”
Since the war began in March 2011, MCC has been providing more than $31 million of humanitarian assistance and peace-building programming in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, the majority of it from the Canadian government and through MCC’s equity at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
Bruce Guenther, MCC’s director of disaster response, says more individual donations are needed to carry on MCC’s 27 ongoing projects that provide food, water, rent assistance, cash assistance, education support and trauma care to Syrians and the host communities, which also are stressed by the competition for jobs and housing.
“In addition to ongoing needs, we are preparing for winter to assist displaced people from Syria and Iraq,” Guenther says. “Donations for fuel, blankets, food assistance and household items are needed.”
El Mansi says that MCC’s resources help people in PARD’s projects to stay, because they have food. Through PARD, MCC provides food vouchers and preschool education in Beirut. In southern Lebanon, where MCC helped construct permanent housing for refugees, PARD also distributes food vouchers to the most vulnerable refugees.
In addition, PARD and other partners offer trauma care that helps children and their parents build their resiliency and think through decisions in this stressful situation. Naomi Enns, an MCC representative for Lebanon and Syria with her husband, Doug, says the work PARD is doing “is holding very, very fragile communities in the south together in ‘peace’ful cohabitation.”
“I want to say to people who donate to MCC,” El Mansi says, “their money is making a difference. Their money is protecting the Syrian people.”
While MCC provides humanitarian relief to help displaced people stay in the region, for some resettling elsewhere is the only option. MCC Canada’s refugee coordinators provide support for churches and other groups that want to sponsor refugees to come to Canada. The coordinators assist with applications, welcome the new families and help them establish a new life.
MCC U.S. is not directly involved with refugee resettlement but does provide grassroots Immigration Law Training for people who work with resettlement agencies.
MCC’s advocacy offices in Canada and the U.S. encourage citizens to contact their legislators, urging them to provide more humanitarian assistance and to allow more Syrians into their countries. Both countries have agreed to admit 10,000 Syrians each.
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, director of the MCC U.S. Washington Office, believes the government must address the cause of the problem.
“The U.S. and others in the international community must also address the root causes of the crisis by ending armed support to various actors in the war and instead put all their energy into finding a negotiated solution that is acceptable to the Syrian people,” she says.
Until then, MCC continues to work with their partners to address the suffering.
“The people in the locations we are working are increasing, they’re not decreasing,” says El Mansi. “They’re still a human being; they’re still in need. It (the response) should continue. It should be even bigger.”
To see a video of El Mansi, visit mcc.org/stories/mccs-help-gives-syrians-reason-stay. To donate, visit mcc.org/Syria-iraq. To advocate, visit mcc.org/get-involved/advocacy/alert/respond-syria-crisis.
Mennonite Central Committee provides relief, development and peace in the name of Christ. Linda Espenshade is news coordinator for MCC U.S. Meghan Mast is multimedia storyteller for MCC Canada.
Photo by Silas Crews for MCC: Syrian refugee Adra and her children received MCC-supported food vouchers and other humanitarian relief to supplement the occasional work her husband could find in Lebanon. (The family is not named for their protection.)