ShelterBox is the first aid agency in the world to distribute tents to Syrian refugees in Lebanon with the permission of the Lebanese Government.
In a complex political environment, ShelterBox is delivering thermally insulated tents to vulnerable families desperately in need through a network of 27 implementing partners that include Scout groups, municipalities and grassroots non-governmental organisations.
'They've been serving the refugee population for two years now, meeting needs based on thorough targeting,' said ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) member Phil Duloy (US/UK) who has just returned to Lebanon. 'They have also been providing prescription drugs, access to doctors, water, food, even phone cards to help refugees contact family.’
The government has historically been opposed to the setting up of tented settlements and there are major considerations surrounding how they are distributed.
'We are receiving a great deal of support from the Lebanese government and the local people,' added Phil. 'With the help of their comprehensive knowledge we are able to focus on the most needy, particularly those who have not yet received any humanitarian aid. However, here everyone has some sort of trauma and are vulnerable.’
'We are distributing either to individual families, or to small groups,' noted SRT member David Webber (UK). 'Grouped tents will be used as transit shelters whereby newly arriving Syrian families will stay in them for 1-3 days until they locate people they know, such as other family members, to move on to live with. These tents will then be vacated for the next arrivals. Many will be set up in various multi-storey buildings that are half built. They don't have any exterior walls but do have plumbing.'
The United Nations counts more than 305,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Syria's smallest neighbour. However, local officials say the actual number is about 400,000, inundating this country of four million. It is feared that if conditions worsen in Damascus a further one million could be on the move towards the Lebanese border.
'Vast number of refugees'
'At first glance one does not notice the vast number of refugees here,' commented Phil. 'But when you look closer, you can see them everywhere: stables, barns, crowded apartments and half-finished buildings. Temperatures here are freezing and the local communities' capacities to assist them are being seriously stretched.'
'It is a complete disaster for these people,' said Dr. Ahmed Al Hujeiri, who distributed health and hygiene kits to Syrians locally. 'Their life, their home, often their family has been destroyed by the war. Every family here knows someone who has been killed or injured in the conflict. In order to survive, they risk crossing to pass back into Syria in order to find work. It's hazardous.'
ShelterBox's efforts will be improving the poor living conditions that the Syrians have been enduring, like Ziad Mohammed and his wife. They arrived in north Lebanon a year ago with his five children, including a three-month-old son. They left their home in Homs when the shelling became so bad that they feared for their lives. They have been living in a makeshift shelter in the corner of a derelict zoo.
'The family looked shell-shocked when we found them,' commented SRT member Gerry De Vries (NL) who is on his first deployment. 'Driving past in this area, you never would've known they were there, they really are the hidden homeless.
'Since they arrived here, the baby has been in and out of hospital constantly as he is sick and unable to breathe due to the scrap materials that their former makeshift shelter was made from. 85 per cent of the health fees were paid for but Zihad, who is a skilled laborer, cannot cover the remaining 15 per cent as he is unable to find work. It was hard a few months ago but the recent influx of refugees has made it harder as they are taking jobs at even lower rates than normal.
'Make a difference'
'I just can't believe that a ShelterBox and two hours of time can make a difference to this family and put a smile on the young children's faces. For the first time, this baby will be able to live in a healthy environment and not be sick anymore. I am proud to be part of ShelterBox's disaster relief work.'
ShelterBox is working as quickly as it can to bring shelter, warmth and a future to these desperate Syrian families to help ease their suffering.