Hope in a Hostile World

Yazidi IDPs, Lebanon/Iraq


March 2 Log: Mariam’s Story


It was a cold and rainy evening. Our team had spent the day visiting refugee families living in tents and makeshift shelters in the Bekaa Valley along the Syrian border in Lebanon. It is estimated there are as many as two million Syrian refugees in this region. They came to escape the war and find shelter and safety for their families. Now, more than eight years later, their lives remain on hold, not knowing if they will return, nor how if they must.


The last home we visited for the day was the family of *Abu, with his wife, four children, his mother, and his sister. They live in a small tarp home in a refugee camp on the outskirts of the village Zahle. The tarps were a combination of UN donated tarps with their logo and unused billboard paper, advertising everything from clot1hing to cigarettes to make up the walls and ceiling. In this weather, they kept out most of the rain and kept in some of the heat. There was a flood two weeks ago that left a foot of water in their tent, forcing them to tear down their home and rebuild on two feet of additional soil and  a newly poured concrete slab, using what they could from old timbers and tarps and buying new as needed, thus making a tough life harder. This, and many other families, spent their precious few resources on the new structure, as well as losing a week of work to rebuild.


The father met us on the road and led us by foot down a very muddy path into the village of tarp tents built one against another. As we went, many hands were held out to help support us as we made our way to the doorway. We went inside, took off our muddy shoes, and were ushered by the children, between three and eight years old, to cushions arranged along two of the walls near a small kerosene stove that warmed those of us who were near. 


After a short time of small talk, the ladies brought us chi (tea), which also warmed us, and we began to discuss the flood and the troubles it caused. The conversation drifted backwards in time to the war. How eight years ago their family had to flee their home in Syria, as their town was shelled. Three of their four children were born in exile. The one born in Syria is named *Mary. Mary is an 8-year-old girl with a very sweet spirit. During our visit she was always smiling, lovingly engaging with her family and our team. When I finished my chi, she immediately got up and poured me another glass. One of the things that made this special was that Mary has clubbed feet. With a beautiful smile and great determination, she got up from the floor and walked across the room on the back of her toes as her little feet turned so far in normal walking was not possible. The father told us Mary was born in Syria. When she was delivered there were complications and during her delivery and the hospital was shelled. They grabbed Mary and her mother from the hospital and they barely escaped alive. In great fear for their lives, they decided they must flee Syria. They ran and “settled” in the camp they live in today.


Our hearts ache to hear such things. This is wrong. This should not happen. This is not the way life is supposed to be. These things should, and will, always break my heart, and I will do my best to fight against this type of evil and help those afflicted by it.


After an hour or so listening to their stories, we parted with words of encouragement for her and her family and gave them some money. They are on our radar and will receive future assistance. As we headed back up the muddy path, we again were assisted by helpful residents. I tried to make it a point to look each person in the eyes and thank them. Our team has been serving in these camps for years and we will continue to help Mary and other families move from hopeless survival to joy filled, prosperous living. 


March 7 Log


Even though the Yazidis’ home in the Sinjar province has been freed from the violent group that had taken over, they are not able to return home. To this day, many of their homes, the water systems, sewers, and electricity grid are badly damaged or destroyed.  Even if these things were working, there remain foreign militia and governments operating in the area and the religious sect has persecuted and tried to commit genocide “73 times” and sided with the violent groups living all around their towns. 


We had the privilege to serve our friends once again, bringing food and other needed items to two locations covering about 60 families. We then visited the soap factory. A Yazidi friend started this company about two years ago. They make an olive oil-based soap that helps even my sun wrinkled and wind-blown face feel like baby skin…not really…but it’s nice soap. We bought 270 soap bars and now I am going to haul 50 lbs of soap through two borders and customs, hoping not to have them confiscated or taxed at each border. If I make it, I’ll let you know how to buy some.


It was a joy to visit the home of my friend *Mark and his family of ten. Mark is the uncle of a man *Brianna, who I have interviewed over the years. Mark took Brianna into his family when her father was murdered in the attack on Sinjar, their home town, and her mother suffered a heart attack and was allowed into Germany for medical care. We spent a few hours with their family, enjoying a time of visiting their home, having tea, talking about life. . .past, present, and future. When our Yazidi friends talk about the future, we keep in mind the current situation, and so do they. Yet they continue to dream and talk about going home, even though at this time it is untenable. Not only do they not have the resources to rebuild, but if they return they would be murdered.


We also did a follow-up Transformational Community Development (TCD) training to help the Yazidi community to take the next steps to improve their lives. We are all coming to the realisation they need to make long-term plans to make life happen for their families here in exile. We visited the town of Halabja and visited a memorial to the victims of the 1988 gas bombing by a regime when over 5000 people died and over 10,000 wounded. People who survived still suffer from the effects of the gas.  It was a sad reminder of how evil humans can treat each other. We are in route back to Beirut where we will visit more Syrian refugees.


March 14 Log


In Lebanon, we served Syrian refugees in Beirut and in the Bekaa Valley, along the Syrian border. Two in our team shared about the value and equality of each human and the kindness and compassion we need for one another. They were so encouraged by this message and many began to tell us how they had been delivered from the war. After one of the sessions, we sat with them and had a meal together, which was not only for fellowship but also to demonstrate our respect for them. We also distributed food to the poorest families by visiting them in their homes. 


Northern Iraq


Our time in North Iraq was also amazing. We were able to deliver aid in the form of food, hygiene products, milk, diesel (for stoves for heating), and other items to the Yazidi families we are serving by helping them be better fed, healthier, and warmer. Their health has always been a concern. We have held several Transformational Community Development (TCD) trainings. They have implemented the method in several areas. One is the installation of PVC pipes to control sewage runoff that was previously running down an open trough where animals and children would step in. They also built pens and tents (for barns) to contain the animals about six metres downhill from their tents where the animal pens were previously adjacent. They are also using water filters we brought to filter out the salt and other impurities in their drinking water as they draw from a well. We want to move the latrine, so we have some homework to do first. I’ll keep you informed.


It was so great to spend time with our Yazidi friends. They are some of the warmest, friendliest, and most hospitable people I have ever met. Thank you for your partnership in this work. We have been able to do this work for over 20 years as friends join with us in financial support. 


GHNI Disaster Relief Team

*For the purposes of safety and wellbeing, “Abu”, “Mary, “Mark”, and “Brianna” are pseudonyms for the individuals the project is helping.