The sea of tents reminds me of a scene from M*A*S*H from a distance, but there is no laugh track here. No, these Lebanese makeshift refugee camps or Informal Tented Settlements (ITS) are some of the most sobering places I’ve ever witnessed. Many of the more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Lebanon now call an ITS “home,” but the conditions are far less than pleasant.
I was invited to visit refugee settlements in Lebanon and Jordan by World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian organization focused on poverty and injustice. In these dwellings, I encountered stories of human suffering for which I was unprepared.
One story was that of Hamide, a mother of 10 whose entire family shares a two-bedroom tent with a dirt floor and walls constructed of old billboard vinyl. She lives in an ITS in Rawda, Lebanon. Her family was forced to flee here from Syria because of violence two years ago. She has no idea if her parents or extended family are still alive.
Poverty cripples her family’s existence in Lebanon. Three of Hamide’s teenage children now work in the fields for $4.00 US a day (despite Lebanon’s anti-child labor laws). She and her husband, Khalil, married off their 14-year-old daughter to a 22-year-old man she’d never met because they could barely afford to feed her. One child is afflicted with Hepatitis C and asthma that require expensive medicines, and Hamide must purchase formula for her 2-month-old daughter because she doesn’t produce milk.
The Syrian civil war has produced more than 3 million refugees like Hamide, and U.N. officials are calling it “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.” And on the front lines of the relief effort, working alongside UNICEF and UNHCR, are a collection of Christian relief organizations committed to ministering in the midst of catastrophe.