From Lahti to Lebanon: My journey to a Syrian refugee camp

 

While the Syrian war crisis is hardly fresh frontpage news, it continues to rage and gather more casualties with no real end in sight. This war has created a global humanitarian crisis, while refugees flee their homeland after being uprooted by selfish political desires and guerrilla fighting forces.

Wherever you live you most likely have seen this crisis manifest in extreme human persecution, death and desperation, and many people outside Syria feel powerless to help.

I currently reside in Lahti, Finland and this is where my story begins. Finland is a place like no other and the city of Lahti, even more so.

Finland’s a country battered by frigid winters and humbled by quiet people.

 

Lahti, Finland

 

It’s peaceful, safe and uneventful on the global news forum. The last time Finland’s inhabitants have seen a war was roughly the same time the rest of Europe did — during World War II.

In Lahti I belong to a Lutheran church community who wanted to help with the Syrian refugee crisis.

 

About 6 months ago my mission partner and I decided to take a trip to Lebanon to visit a refugee camp nicknamed “The Border Community,” or more formally known as camp Almarj. Almarj is located in northern Lebanon some 80kms from the Syrian border.

We were expecting squalor living conditions upon arriving at Almarj, however, once we got there it was worse than expected. Aside from the slum-like conditions, merely visiting this camp is extremely dangerous. The camp is located eerily close to ISIS fighting grounds which allowed for my fear to trump my courage.

 

Home to over 2,000 refugees of all ages and backgrounds, Almarj is very isolated.

 

UNHCR

 

After spending countless hours listening to stories about daily life from the families, my heart felt hopeless. Compared to my minimal life in Lahti these people were suffering a tremendous amount. However, through the same glass there was an underlying sense of hope.

Suggestive in its adopted name “The Border Community,” this community of displaced people was indeed just that — a group of scattered souls that found each other and together they found comfort in their shared struggles.

The word spread quickly throughout Almarj that we came bearing gifts. The gifts presented to the families seemed to provide momentary relief from daily despair, and it was obvious in their gratitude.

One little girl asked us for a dress so that she could be the princess she always dreamed of being. Her father was left behind in Syria while her mother strived to better their lives and situation. The girl’s elation when I gave her the dress was unforgettable.

 

After spending time with the kids and playing a few games of football, it became apparent to me that although these children have suffered indelible scars, they haven’t abandoned the intermittent happiness one can find in hope.

 

Hope is an undeniably strong force. If you abandon hope then you abandon everything.

 

Almarj Camp “The Border Community” – Lebanon

 

 

Even when the world around us seems desolate and deranged, hope can trickle in. Hope can force those adults who have discarded all optimism to continue searching for a positive way forward.

Upon leaving the camp a little boy asked me what I do back in Lahti. I was stumped, dumbfounded. I quickly realized that I don’t do anything meaningful enough to help others in dire straights such as the Syrian refugees at Almarj.

 

The only next logical step I could take in order to help this global crisis was to offer my services to refugee families recently settling in Lahti.

 

 

I’m currently meeting with families and offering what little I have to aid them in their transition, and although I go through bouts of anguish about the people we left behind in Lebanon, I remember that small gestures of good faith can help light the pathway to hope for those who are accessible to us.

– Georges Hourani is a researcher,  journalist and political analyst.  He is an expert on Middle Eastern affairs and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and has published various articles in Finland and other Nordic countries.


Photo credits

UNHCR photo by michael_swan

Lahti photo by Anton Czernous

Remaining photos are all owned by Georges Hourani

Edited by Michele Lawrence 

 




2 replies
  1. Kasper87
    Kasper87 says:

    Hat tip to you, George! Great to see someone making the effort to see what life is like for these poor people in real life.

    Reply

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