Abbotsford News editor Andrew Holota was in Jordan and Lebanon, reporting on the Syrian refugee crisis with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), one of the nation’s largest non-governmental aid organizations. It has been funding refugee relief in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria since the summer. CFGB is a partnership of 15 churches and church agencies, partnering with a number of NGOs in Jordan and Lebanon, assisting them with funding to deliver aid.
Abbotsford is an important donor community for CFGB, which receives 4-1 Canadian government matching funds and partners with other NGOs such as World Renew in Canada and around the world to deliver food aid.
A unique thread binds Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
They recognize they are in the struggle for life together.
Such is the insight that comes with serving both groups, providing aid and relief in an ongoing humanitarian crisis of inconceivable scope, involving millions of people displaced by civil war.
How Doug and Naomi Enns came to Beirut to represent the Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) efforts in Lebanon speaks to their commitment to the organization and the people it serves.
Living in Winnipeg after recently completing a term for MCC in Chad, Africa, Doug and Naomi were alerted to a posting in Beirut by their daughter, a university representative on the MCC Ontario board. The Enns packed up in August and are now co-representatives for MCC Lebanon on a three-year contract.
Doug was born in Abbotsford, attended elementary school in the area, and graduated from the Mennonite Educational Institute. He and Naomi were married in 1985 and lived in Winnipeg and then Victoria before returning to the Manitoba city.
Although there are many obvious differences between their aid work in Chad and the Syrian situation, one specifically struck Doug upon arrival at their new posting: “The shock is in the disparity between the facade of western-style wealth in Beirut and the downtown, and then you’ve got these got these gatherings within the city limits as well, where you’ve got impoverished situations which aren’t covered by municipal and government aid. So it’s a huge disparity within a small area between rich and poor…”
Working in the Palestinian gatherings (formerly called camps) is PARD, or Popular Aid for Relief and Development, which formed in the late 1940s to respond to the plight of Palestinians who fled to Lebanon and other neighbouring countries after the state of Israel was created.
Through PARD, and with support from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, MCC is providing food vouchers and other assistance to refugees from Syria, and local Palestinians, among others.
MCC works in relief, development and peace-building. A primary part of its response in Lebanon and in Syria has been to the Syrian crisis, which is now in its 32nd bloody month, with more than 100,000 people killed and more than three million citizens crossing the borders in search of safety.
MCC has been in Lebanon since 1950 and now has approximately 17 partners who have or had current projects sponsored with MCC’s help over 2013, including food baskets, cash allowances, health and educational support, peace-building conferences, and training in trauma and conflict for victims, and front-line responders and trainers. The Enns presently supervise two CFGB food-related projects and three Canadian government projects focused on winterization and non-food items.
Access to food is a key factor for families throughout the Syrian refugee crisis, not only to meet hunger, but alleviate some of the pressure on their meagre flow of money, if they have any at all. Rents are climbing in Jordan and Lebanon, and often refugees have an impossible choice – buy food or pay the rent.
In the Palestinian gatherings, a Syrian refugee father and his young son live with 16 other people in an apartment for which they pay $400 per month, with no power. They’d have to add another $200 to have electricity.
His child goes to a kindergarten run by PARD with MCC support. Syrian refugee children in Beirut wouldn’t otherwise have that opportunity, but presently 70 kids attend classes at the school, and the organizations hope to increase that number.
In total, MCC has invested about $10 million in response to the Syrian refugee crisis since it began.
“Many here in Lebanon and Syria feel that through the aid of MCC they have been given back dignity and worth along with a renewed purpose for their lives,”
“Many refugees are finding strength to prepare for the day in which they can return to help rebuild their Syrian country when this present war is over… At the same time, the hosting Lebanese communities are being built up to decrease the heavy burden they carry with the increasing load of refugees and its taxation on their infrastructures.”
Syrian refugees and their Palestinian hosts know full well what it means to be homeless and traumatized by war.
Doug notes, “In this culture it is unheard of and considered “unethical” not to seek good for each other… Syrian refugees and Palestinian refugees and Lebanese are truly grateful when they can share and when they are shared with and their sufferings remembered by another.
“For all of us it is important to be valued enough to be remembered.”
Asked to share his memories of his former hometown, Doug says, “I loved growing up near the mountains in Abbotsford and miss the raspberries. The good people of Abbotsford shaped my beginnings and the values I learned from family, church and community about compassion and service instilled in me a desire to work for a better world internationally.
“I now recognize the privilege and responsibility we have to share what we have with others in need. Abbotsford is far cry from so many others across the globe who struggle for daily life and basic human rights.”
MCC has invested millions in assistance since Syrian civil war began
MCC is the largest of the groups supporting the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), with a significant portion of funding coming from Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley including an annual relief sale at Tradex, which is the largest among 46 such events in North America.
In each of the past three years, the event has raised a gross total of $600,000, with each one targeting a portion of the funds to a special project.
In the past month, B.C. donors contributed $10,000 in cash to CFGB. Year-to-date, through October, MCC donated just over $50,000 to CFGB in B.C, and a total of $162,000 in cash to the organization nation-wide, as well as $120,000 worth of grain donations from farmers.
In the Lower Mainland, MCC contributions to CGFB primarily take the form of cash donations, while in the province’s northern reaches, grain donations are also prevalent, as they are in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
CFGB is a key Canadian non-governmental organization that receives funding from the Canadian government, and applies it to projects identified by key member groups, such as MCC and World Renew.
Since MCC began focusing on a response to the Syrian refugee situation, it has contributed $8.3 million to help meet people’s basic needs.
In addition, the organization contributed 69,400 comforters, assisted 9,555 Syrian families with food, medical aid or shelter; provided education support to 1,508 Syrian children, and made it possible for 450 infants to receive milk and diapers.
The statistics are significant, in that they are focused on out-of-country needs.
According to Phil Schafran, Abbotsford-based director of donor relations and communications for MCC BC, 75 to 80 per cent of funds raised by all non-profit organizations in Canada stay in the country.
“Canadians are generous, but a good portion of that generosity is consumed here,” in a country that has a large social safety net.
Looking at the international picture, Schafran notes, “When you think about humanity and the masses, it can become overwhelming … why bother?”
Yet he counters that perception by recalling a scene from the movie Schindler’s List, which incorporates a phrase from the Jewish Talmud, “…And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.
For more information on MCC visit mcccanada.ca
For more information on the CFGB visit www.foodgrainsbank.ca
For more information on World Renew visit www.worldrenew.net
More in the series on the Syrian refugee crisis