COLUMN: First hand view of humanitarian need

Aleppo. Hama. Homs. It’s unlikely those names will mean anything to most people here...

COLUMN: First hand view of humanitarian need

Aleppo. Hama. Homs.

It’s unlikely those names will mean anything to most people here.

They are cities in Syria.


Probably much greater public recognition.

It’s a port city in the Philippines.

They are thousands of kilometres apart, yet have a dreadful commonality – they are the sites of major humanitarian crises.

And yet the causes of that suffering, death and displacement are utterly different.

In Syria, civil war is to blame for the loss of tens of thousands of lives, and millions of refugees.

In the Philippines, a natural catastrophe – Typhoon Haiyan – is responsible.

In the case of the latter, the maelstrom struck and passed in a matter of hours. The death toll is over 4,000 and could climb further.

In Syria, the violence has been grinding on for nearly three years, with an estimated 100,000 killed.

In the typhoon-struck islands, some three million people have been displaced.

During October, the number of displaced Syrian people is estimated at six and a half million.

In both situations, the need for international humanitarian aid is critical, and immense. Yet, the two scenarios again differ greatly in terms of response, which is impacted deeply by media coverage, and in turn the capacity of people to understand the need, and maintain focus and support.

What has all this to do with Abbotsford, so far removed from both countries?

This is a remarkably generous community, which has a reputation of responding to people’s needs here and abroad.

That willingness to help includes the Syrian situation over the years, and not surprisingly, has again come to the fore in the case of the Philippines, which is the latest, most high-profile humanitarian cause to capture the media and public’s attention.

That poses a challenge for organizations such as the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), which receives significant support from this community, and the Mennonite Central Committee, which has a high-profile presence and offices in Abbotsford, and is an important supporter of the CFGB, as is World Renew.

While the Syrian situation carries on, disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan diverts a finite level of charity.

How do aid organizations budget for human suffering and need – spanning local, national and international – as response to one crisis potentially diminishes aid to another?

From purely a statistical perspective, the Syrian refugee crisis dominates, but as with virtually all long-term internal conflicts, sees public attention rise and fade.

It’s not hard to comprehend lives torn asunder by shrieking winds and rushing waters. Harder though, to relate to displacement by violence that comes from within one’s own country, at the hands of one’s own people.

The CFGB is addressing that challenge, in a way you may not expect – on the community level.

The church-based organization approached the Abbotsford News with an invitation to join a tour of Jordan and Lebanon – the two countries hosting the majority of Syrian refugees who have left their homeland.

I volunteered to represent The News and Black Press.

As of Monday, I’ll be in Jordan, meeting and talking with the people displaced by the Syrian civil war, and the folks who work to bring them food, water, shelter, medical aid … and hope.

The trip is sponsored by the CFGB, however, what I report will not be vetted.

I expect to see and learn things that most of us will never experience, nor perhaps would many wish to.

There are going to be many stories.

I will be sharing some of them with you.

Watch for posts next week on

Just Posted

Xauni de Figeuiroa of Abbotsford has been selected to attend a virtual space camp hosted by the Canadian Space Agency at the end of July.
Abbotsford student selected to attend virtual space camp

Xauni de Figeuiroa among 52 youth selected from across Canada

Kindergarten kids from Evans elementary school in Chilliwack painted rocks with orange hearts and delivered them to Sto:lo Elders Lodge recently after learning about residential schools. (Laura Bridge photo)
Kindergarten class paints rocks with orange hearts in Chilliwack for local elders

‘Compassion and empathy’ being shown by kids learning about residential schools

Chilliwack potter Cathy Terepocki (left) and Indigenous enhancement teachers Val Tosoff (striped top) and Christine Seymour (fuchsia coat), along with students at Vedder middle school, look at some of the 500-plus pinch pots on Thursday, June 10 made by the kids to honour the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack students make hundreds of tiny clay pots in honour of 215 Indigenous children

‘I think the healing process has begun,’ says teacher about Vedder middle school project

A program of the Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation enables patients to thank their health-care workers.
Fraser Valley program enables patients to say thanks to their health-care workers

Philip Harris Grateful Patient Program offered through health care foundation

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Webinar looks at sexual abuse prevention among adolescents

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA hosts free online session on June 15

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

Most Read