Syrian families preparing for the cold winter ahead in Lebanon

Published: 12 December 2014 9:41 CET

By Tommaso Della Longa, IFRC

Two hours before the distribution started, temperature was two degrees below zero, but many of the children in Zahle –  in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley, less than 30 minutes from the Syrian border and 980 meters above the sea level – have only flip flops on their feet. Snow is all around the mountains.

This area is considered safe for refugees from the fighting in Syria and this is why a lot of informal camps are here. More than 1,000 families have sought safety here. In this part of the country, the Lebanese Red Cross takes care of several informal camps. In addition to traditional relief activities, the society is preparing for the hard winter ahead.

A group of Red Cross volunteers work on water trucking despite the storm raging around them. Every two days in the ‘New Camp’ 167 families receive clean water, which is a big change for those used to either having a choice between unsafe water or expensive bottled water.

“We are not only bringing water here. We are working on hygiene promotion, flood prevention and relief distribution. In the last days we have also distributed sandbags and we worked on the construction of drains,” explained the local disaster management coordinator.

Firas is a refugee living in the camp with his wife and four children. He said the situation was difficult, and that the winter would be a challenge. “Winter and cold are our main problems now, but we feel safe here,” he said. “We are thankful the Red Cross is taking care of us.”

The changing season has also had an impact on the families earnings. “Sometimes we work as daily workers in the farmlands, but during winter it’s obviously impossible. So now we almost don’t have any type on income,” Firas said.

In Abu Latif camp, the winterization efforts are already underway, with volunteers distributing tarpaulins and blankets to families. Despite the cold, the volunteers make time to talk to the children who play as their parents pick up their items. The talk turns to home, ambitions and the future. “I want to become a doctor to help my people,” said one. “My dream is to return home to go to school,” said a second.

The children and their families say that the Red Cross volunteers provide not just a lifeline, but also the acknowledgement that they matter, that they are not simply figures on a map.