Aid worker’s diary: Syrian refugees’ strength and despair

A World Vision aid worker in Lebanon tells of the hope and care found amid dire circumstances.

By Patricia Mouamar, World Vision Lebanon
Published June 4, 2013 at 12:00am PDT

There is one thing all refugees have in common: their look.

It is not just a look of fear; nor is it a look of need. It is a look of despair.

Working in communications with World Vision, I have visited dozens of Syrian refugees living in Lebanon over the past year and a half. I have talked to them and shared their stories. I am still in contact with many of them.

None of the refugees can ever tell me what they imagine their future will look like. They say, “God only knows.”

My questions are often addressed to all members of the family, but one question in particular causes every Syrian mother to tear up. “Tell me what your house looked like in Syria,” I ask.

None of the women are able to describe their homes without choking up.

“It was my paradise,” says Abir, a Syrian refugee mother. “I had a big house, with a big kitchen, a garden, and a bed for each of my children.”

Abir and her husband and four children are living in a car garage with another family. Many of their possessions, including the mattresses where they sleep on the floor, are stained by oil and grease.

The violence in Syria affects all people there. It is not only poor communities that have had to take refuge. Many people in Lebanon’s makeshift shelters once had a house, a job, a future. None of these things are certain in Lebanon or other hosting countries.

Yet, despite their despair, Syrian refugees cherish the relationships and temporary community they find themselves in. They care about each other, and they have cared for me.

I lost my father about a month ago. His death was devastating for me; I am still learning to cope. But what surprised me is the number of refugees who sent me condolences. They care — not only about their own loss, but also about the losses of others.

I cried over my father’s tomb and prayed at his funeral. Some Syrian refugee parents I met have been deprived of that.

“I lost two sons in [a] bombing few months back,” says Shamma, a Syrian mother. “I just received a call informing me about their death. I don’t know whether they are buried or just thrown on the side of a street.”

Refugees have been driven to desperate measures to meet their need for food and shelter. Some have no protection from the rains or harsh sun. Others forage alongside cattle for rotten potatoes in the fields.

“We wait until Lebanese farmers harvest the potatoes, and we collect what is remaining,” says Nurie, a refugee woman.

After every visit to the Syrian refugees, I go home and tell my mother some of the stories I heard. I can’t help feeling guilty; my mother always receives me with a delicious meal. 

“Why don’t you just help them?” she often asks.

“We are,” I tell her.

I am thankful that my work with World Vision allows me to witness the assistance provided to 80,000 refugees every month through food vouchers, clean water, and education projects. But the number of refugees across the region is increasing by thousands each day.

Without more support, we cannot hope to meet their needs.

How you can help

Pray for children and families impacted by the violence in Syria. Pray especially for families who have been separated due to the conflict, and pray for emotional and physical protection for vulnerable children and families. 

Make a one-time gift to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Your gift will help us provide basic hygiene kits and food vouchers for refugee families, as well as established Child-Friendly Spaces to provide affected children with a safe place to play, learn, and interact with their peers.


  • Millions have already been displaced by violence in Syria, many of them crossing the borders to neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. Thousands more become displaced each day.
  • Displaced children and families suffer from a lack of safe housing, jobs, and school opportunities, as well as limited or no access to basic necessities.

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