Throughout this holiday season, Canadians filled their bellies with savoury foods and seasonal delights. But what if you could only afford two meals a day, such as yogurt with bread for breakfast followed by a vegan soup with rice for supper? And you have so little money, meat is a luxury eaten only once or twice a month?
This description depicts a nutrient deficient diet. Yet two Syrian refugee families living in Lebanon follow this regime and face daily struggles seeking the basics of life – food, clothing, shelter, medical care and freedom from violence.
In past months, St. Albert's community refugee committee rallied to sponsor these two Syrian families who have lived in Beirut since 2016. The committee’s volunteer work is rooted in the belief that human life is precious.
“We live in a global community and we have a responsibility to help others – people not as fortunate as we are. Probably the federal government would say the population is not growing fast enough and we need young people to keep the economy growing. For me, it’s about sharing what we’ve got. After all, we’re all immigrants. We all come from somewhere,” said Judy Evans, committee chairperson.
Before the families receive a go-ahead from the federal government to immigrate, the committee needs $71,000 to assist in the resettling. They have already raised $36,000.
The two families headed by brothers are originally from Daraa, Syria, a city known as the “cradle of the revolution” after people protested demanding democratic reforms. The anti-government protests sparked the beginning of the Syrian uprising of 2011.
As it became too dangerous to live there, the men escaped from their farms, with the women and children following several months later.
Currently, the two families – a total of 12 people – live together in a crowded two-bedroom apartment, said Evans. As the pandemic sweeps the world, social distancing in this environment is impossible. If a single member of either family contracts COVID-19, it places the others in jeopardy.
St. Albert Arabic interpreter Muna Abdulhussain spoke with one family via WhatsApp this past weekend. Not only have food prices risen, but the cost of all goods has spiked since the Beirut port explosion earlier this year on Aug. 4.
The explosion occurred as 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse came into contact with fire from a welding torch. It killed at least 200 people, injured about 6,000 more and displaced about 300,000 residents from their homes.
The explosion created a crater in the port, destroyed the warehouse and a massive grain silo. The loss of the 120,000-ton capacity grain silo – the only one in the country – worsened a looming food crisis that continues to affect the economy.
Abdulhussain explained that the families receive a monthly pre-paid UN card of 600,000 Lebanese lira. The Gazette did some rough calculations and it is equivalent to $507 Canadian at today’s exchange rate.
“But it is not enough to support themselves to buy food and pay the rent. Sometimes at the end of the month, they need to borrow money to get by,” said Abdulhussain.
Daily schoolwork for the children is non-existent.
“School is not done on a regular basis. It is something like online learning, but the family does not have a computer. The dad says (the situation) is not beneficial for the kids. The children are either watching TV or playing outdoors with other kids. But they need to be under supervision as it is not safe.”
Outside the family unit, violence is increasing for women and children.
“It is not very safe as men must accompany women if they go out. There is lots of kidnapping happening.”
The current COVID situation makes traditional fundraising impossible for the refugee committee. However, it is open to new ideas for generating interest and income.
“We are looking for money, but if people want to come forward with fundraising ideas, they are welcome,” Evans said.
Anyone who donates $25 or more will receive a tax-deductible receipt. Individuals wishing to donate are requested to send an email to [email protected].