For Abdel el-Razek and his family, life is hard.
For the family of nine—including six kids between the ages of 18 months and 14 years—home is two three-metre by eight-metre tents on a rocky escarpment just outside of Irbid, Jordan.
With all those people crowded into such a small space, and with no plumbing or heating, their situation is overcrowded and uncomfortable. But it is nothing compared to the discomfort Abdel feels about his inability to provide for his children.
“I would cut flesh from my arm to feed them if I had to,” says the 34 year-old former car salesman, making a cutting motion.
Fortunately, Abdel and his family receive a food basket each month through Foodgrains Bank member World Renew. It’s the only form of outside assistance the family receives.
In addition to providing food for meals, the basket allows them to spend what little cash they have on other things the need—like water and purchasing a heater to warm the tents so they can get through what is turning out to be a very cold winter.
Since finding work is difficult, Abdel is grateful for the help. It augments the odd jobs he picks up at nearby olive farms. The little bit of money he earns isn’t nearly enough to support his family.
It wasn’t always like this for the family. Like most of the nine million Syrians displaced by the fighting, Abdel and his family once enjoyed a peaceful, middle class life in that country.
Back in Syria, Abdel used to work in a car dealership. His older children attended school. The family owned a home. He was able to save money, and even buy little luxuries.
“We had an ordinary life back in Syria,” he says.
But when a peaceful protest against the Syrian government quickly turned violent, and multiple groups joined the conflict, the family’s life was turned upside down.
Falling bombs and fighting became a part of everyday life. Abdel managed to avoid taking sides in the conflict; all he wanted was for the war to stop.
But then he was approached by the Free Syrian Army and told to join the fighting. He didn’t want to, but he was told that if he didn’t he’d be viewed as supporting the other side—and would himself become a target.
“They told me, ‘Either you work for us, or we kill you,” he says.
Fearing for their safety, the family sold what they could and then fled to the neighbouring country of Jordan.
The first place they went was the Zatarri refugee camp run, by the United Nations. It was safer than being in Syria, but overcrowded—Abdel felt it was an unhealthy place for a family with young kids. So they left, finding shelter in the town of Irbid.
“We are feeling good to have this aid and help from you,” he says of the food provided through the Foodgrains Bank. “It’s the best thing for God to have somebody like you giving us this, because we cannot find it any other place.”
As for the future, he has one hope.
“My dream is to be able to walk to my neighbour’s house in Syria, and greet him in peace,” he says.
Syrian refugees who have fled to the neighbouring country of Lebanon share many of the same struggles.
In that country, refugee camps aren’t even an option; the Lebanese government won’t permit them, fearing that they could become permanent. As a result, over one million Syrians have found shelter in local communities, crowding into apartments, garages, sheds and even chicken coops—wherever they can find shelter.
Bayan Brijaway is one of these people. The mother of three bright-faced little girls receives food vouchers from the Foodgrains Bank at a preschool in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. The program is implemented by Foodgrains Bank member Mennonite Central Committee.
She, too, is grateful for the assistance, but worries about the effect of the war on her family.
“My children have lost a minimum of two years of their education because of this war,” she says. “We never expected this.”
Bayan’s family shares an apartment with two other families—18 people in total. Including electricity, the family pays about $500 a month for rent.
The food vouchers allow her to provide healthy food for the girls, without having to take money away from their housing costs.
“If you stop the food vouchers, people will be on the streets in two to three months, begging,” she says. “They will either be begging, or they will be forced back to Syria.”
People like Abdel and Bayan and their families are just a few of the over 70,000 Syrians receiving help from the Foodgrains Bank through its members each month.
Donations from supporters, together with matching funds from the Canadian government, have enabled the Foodgrains Bank to provide $5.8 million of assistance since November, 2012.
A new grant of $6.5 million from the Canadian government, announced in mid-December, will enable the Foodgrains Bank to provide additional assistance in the first half of 2014.
While providing this assistance is important, it’s not the solution says Grant Hillier, Foodgrains Bank International Programs Director.
“The best solution is an end to the fighting so people can go home,” he says. “For this reason, the Foodgrains Bank invites people to pray for an end to the conflict. Even then, much assistance will be required to help people recover from this crisis.”
Photo: Abdel and his child