Syria - stories of solidarity and voluntary service

Publié: 11 août 2006 0:00 CET

Shahla Al-Ujayli, Information officer, Amman Delegation

Since July 12, tens of thousands of people fled hostilities in Lebanon and crossed the border into Syria, where they were sheltered in schools and social centres or taken in by hundreds of host families in Syria. Volunteers from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society were mobilized to help evacuees as they came across the border, and distribute food, water and other essential relief to those families who had fled with few or no possessions. Here are two stories illustrating the solidarity that many people displayed in difficult times.

Muhammad Muhibuddine, an engineer from Al-Qsair region, 15 kilometers southeast of Homs, in western Syria, explains how he came to host a Lebanese family:

“When the evacuees converged on the Red Crescent Center, I went there to inquire about the situation and to see if I could give any assistance. I saw children as old as my own, who were tired, hungry and crying. I immediately applied to host a family of 13 persons and took them to my house.

We do not consider them to be émigrés or displaced persons, but rather welcome guests among family and friends, and we must contribute towards alleviating their grief.

Red Crescent staff members and volunteers visit us regularly to offer some help, in the form of food, baby milk and diapers, as a contribution towards our guests’ upkeep. They are to be thanked, but I really do not want anything. We will leave these articles for other needy families, especially those who are housed in school buildings.

Today, I have in my house four women, a man and eight children — the eldest is 14 years old, while the youngest is only 20 days old. This infant spent 10 days of his life in Lebanon and 10 in Syria.

I really admire those young Red Crescent men and women. They are strong and able. I know some of them as they are from the region, but this is the first time I see them working in the field. When my children grow up, they should join them.”

Rabiha, who lives in Muhammad’s house with her five children, her sister and her sister’s husband and their baby, her two nephews and her mother, explains how she fled to Syria:

“On the 12th of July, the bombardment started at Al-Dahiya (Beirut’s southern suburb), where we were living. Under fire, we fled to Baalbek and stayed there with my mother. The bombardment followed us there, so we fled to Syria across the border point at Jousieh. We ended up here at Qsair, where we were welcomed by Red Crescent volunteers, who gave us what we needed and helped us. Subsequently, this generous gentleman hosted us. I feel greatly disconcerted, but the solidarity of the people here makes me feel welcome. Naturally, I impatiently await our return; I watch the news every second, in the hope of catching a glance of our house to make sure it has not been bombarded. I am very worried about my husband and brother, who stayed there.”

Abdullah, Muhammad’s 10-year-old son, is in 5th grade. He says:
“When I saw them with my father in our house, I asked myself: ‘Who are these people?’ My father then explained the situation. Their son Ali, who is four years older than me, talked to me about the war, about the airplanes and the rockets. He told me how the houses of people explode and their occupants are killed.

So we all engaged ourselves in computer games and played football. I have gotten accustomed to their presence. I shall be sad when we part. But, I want them to go to their home, to their schools. After the war ends, I will visit them in Beirut.”

Ghaida, a young Lebanese Red Cross volunteer who fled hostilities in her country, discovered the practical applications of two of the International Movement’s fundamental principles – universality and voluntary service, when she arrived in Syria with her family.

“We should not be a burden to the community or to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent; we should help one another,” says Ghaida, a Lebanese evacuee, who became a Red Crescent volunteer.

At the Ghaleb Radhi Rural School in the town of Qsair, 15 kilometers southeast of Homs, in western Syria, a group of Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society (SARCS) volunteers from the Homs branch, including Ghaida, is busy caring for and attending to the needs of evacuees from Lebanon. Ghaida had done volunteer work for a year with the Lebanese Red Cross Society (LRCS), where she learned the basic principles of relief.

The bombing of the Lebanese city of Baalbek, across the border, forced the 28-year-old archaeology graduate to flee, accompanied by her mother, five sisters and one brother — all of whom are beginner LRCS volunteers. Ghaida explains why she spontaneously offered her services: “When I saw how energetic the Red Crescent volunteers were and how important their humanitarian mission was, I became enthusiastic and wanted to alleviate some of the suffering of the displaced people here. They all come from my region and know me well. I introduced myself to the person in charge at the Red Crescent and informed him of my desire to help. He was very pleased.

I share tasks with other volunteers. This also facilitates their work, because the displaced people trust me and consider me as their own daughter. That is why I became a communication link between the two sides. We organize the camp here and prepare meals, clean, entertain people, play with the children, and set up health visits. This camp has become exemplary. Even the children contribute to the work; they clean the courtyard, where they play. The women clean the bathrooms and rooms, while the men unload and distribute the relief supplies.

My sisters followed my example and volunteered for work at other centers for displaced people. We meet daily to evaluate the situation and learn from our experiences to avoid mistakes.

When I think about it, I find that the period I have spent with the Lebanese Red Cross, short as it is, has succeeded in implanting the spirit of voluntary service in me, strengthened by the practical experience I have gained from participating in relief work with the Syrian Red Crescent. I find that this depicts the application of two of the International Movement’s seven fundamental principles - ‘voluntary service’ and ‘universality’, which I learned about on my very first day as a volunteer with the Lebanese Red Cross and put into practice with the Syrian Red Crescent.”