January 12, 2017

Syrian refugee kids warm a freezing refugee camp in the Middle East

CHANMIN CHUNG, communication coordinator, Middle East and North Africa Union

Twenty-seven Syrian refugee students from the Adventist Learning Center (ALC) in Beirut, Lebanon piled into a tiny rented bus for a 90-minute drive to north Lebanon to deliver sacks of clothing and some donated foods.

This annual project started as a simple assignment for the Adventist Learning Center to express gratitude for the donations and support it receives from around the world. For example, the refugee children of ALC have been given winter jackets and rain boots.

Refugee children from the Adventist Learning Center (ALC) in Beirut, brought aid and encouragement to other refugees in nothern Lebanon. [photo credit: Chanmin Chung, Middle East and North Africa Union]

Every Christmas the center gives a child a shoebox full of useful things. This Christmas, the students were issued a challenge to find a project that helps someone else.

“Each of our students has their story of loss and trauma, but despite their past, they can learn to reach out and bless others as well,” said Alexis Hurd-Shires, ALC director.

Hurd-Shires said even though many of these kids come from homes that lack proper doors, windows, and walls, where their parents don't have jobs, and families who don’t know how they’re going to pay the rent or put food on the table, they were diligent in their task.

Asking friends and neighbors, and even digging in the donations they personally received, the students collected clothes and shoes bag-by-bag. As a result, they collected more than 30 large black trash sacks of goods.

This gesture of self-sacrifice from the refugee children touched church leaders.

“Sometimes I am struck with how many times we share what we have at no sacrifice, but others share what they need at great sacrifice,” said Rick McEdward, president of Middle East and North Africa Union.

The story of the refugee children’s act led him to more thoughts. “Could it be that the poor are less attached to things, so they are willing to be at risk to share even out of their poverty?” McEdward said.

No sooner had the tires sunk into the mud before the bus was surrounded by the occupants of the scattered UNICEF tents.

When the refugee students, who came with jackets, rain boots, and warm hats pulled over their ears, got off the bus, they were immediately shocked at many unusual scenes, such as children walking without shoes and refugees washing clothes outside in the freezing weather.

“When we were about to leave, one older woman whispered me that for a few hours we made them forget their circumstances and where they are”

Teachers were no exception.

“It was completely unexpected when a drop of icy water rolled down my neck and two more soaked through my hair,” said Giedre Asmar, fourth-grade ALC teacher. “When I was shocked to see the broken tent roof from the weight of the rain water, refugees told me that their living conditions are tolerable until it snows.”

After their visit, the snow season began in northern Lebanon.

The Syrian refugee children from the ALC took turns carrying the bags of clothes and food to each tent and then scattered out to spend some time with the refugees.

It provided them with opportunities to observe the living conditions.

“There is no running water, no carpet on the floor, and no school,” said Mohammad, a 10-year-old Syrian refugee who studies at the ALC.

The students played a game of football under the olive trees with the tent kids who hadn’t seen a ball in a long time, while others wandered through the tents talking to the people who lived in them.

Behind one tent a group of boys found a teenage girl trying to build a tiny fire to heat some water for washing clothes. Quickly they spread out to help her find more wood, then manned the fired under her metal pot.

After the visit, the visitors and refugees gathered in the mud-field to say goodbyes.

“When we were about to leave, one older woman whispered me that for a few hours we made them forget their circumstances and where they are,” Hurd-Shires said.