I recently had the incredible opportunity to travel to Lebanon with an organization that is very dear to my heart, World Vision.
I visited Kenya with World Vision in 2014 and welcomed the opportunity to experience Lebanon, especially because my daughter Adele was accompanying me on this trip. When we first arrived we were briefed on the climate of the country. As you know, Syria’s civil war began in 2011 and what started as a peaceful uprising has since escalated and shattered the lives of the Syrian people. This war has destroyed cities and driven many Syrian refugees into Lebanon, where they are more vulnerable than ever and many depend on aid to survive. They are not allowed to pursue the careers they had at home because the Lebanese government restricts their right to work, so a growing number are falling deeper into poverty and debt.
These refugees work primarily in agriculture and construction and they often get paid less than their Lebanese counterparts. But they need any money that they can make because they must pay rent to live in the refugee settlements for displaced persons. Families there live in tents, often sleeping on the floor or on a mat and some have a small stove and a few personal items.
This trip put faces on this crisis for me and helped me understand the plight of refugees in a new light. When we visited a settlement for displaced persons, one of the first people we met was a woman named Mariam. Her house in Syria was destroyed and her husband left her to raise four boys and two girls ages five to 13. I didn’t know this before, but if a man wants to divorce his wife all he has to say is “I divorce you” three times and that is it, they are divorced. And once they are divorced, the woman is cast aside and shunned, no man will ever want her and she will never marry again.
On her own, she and her six children walked from their house to the mountains where they met a bus which brought them to this spot five years ago. The floors are bare, with a few blankets and all of their belongings fit in a small plastic drawer, there is no stove and there is no heat, but their family is together.
Her oldest son, Hisham, works in the potato fields, because as he told us, “I need to care for my family.” Mariam explained that they live day by day and if Hisham doesn’t work, they cannot afford the rent that they need to pay to live there. She said that she dreams he will become the best man he can be, but that she cannot afford to teach him. I asked him about his dreams for the future. He simply stood up and walked out of the room. I realized then that he could not answer that question because he didn’t see a future for himself. This moment, this interaction, has stayed with me and still weighs heavy on my heart today.