After years of violence, one family finds hope

Lebanon, Syria, May 11, 2017

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  • Fozza, center, stands with her family at an informal settlement in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. After fleeing the Syrian war and the mistreatment of a Lebanese landowner, Fozza’s family now benefits from Mercy Corps gender-based violence training. PHOTO: Mercy Corps

The war in Syria changed everything for Fozza. The regular, peaceful home she shared with her husband, Khalil, six children and eight grandchildren was gone, replaced by a life in conflict.

In Syria, Fozza and her family struggled, waking up every day not knowing whether they would be killed. Soon, food and medical supplies began to run out. ISIS recruited all the men in their city, Tabqa, including Fozza’s sons, leaving Khalil behind only because he was already injured. The time had finally come to take the risk.

They had to escape.

But leaving war behind would turn out to be just the start of a journey wracked with yet more fear and violence.

Safety, a few feet ahead

After fleeing to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Fozza’s family was away from war, but they had no way to provide for themselves. And it was taking its toll: Due to a food deficiency and lack of medical care, Fozza’s granddaughter, Rasmeya, 7, suffered nerve deterioration and lost the ability to talk. Another, Ayat, 3, was permanently paralyzed.

The family longed for food, medical supplies, shelter and — above all — safety. Read more about the crisis in Syria ▸

Alone in a strange country, the family searched desperately for a place to stay. Eventually, they were introduced to a landowner who offered to pay them for agricultural work and let them stay on his land.

The family thought they had found refuge, and a tent where they could live. But they still couldn’t meet their basic needs. They were forced to walk many kilometers to get water, and had no way to rebuild for the future.

New home, new violence

Soon, Fozza’s family needed money to prepare for winter: wood, blankets and basic necessities to survive the brutal cold to come.

Fozza asked the landowner for the fees he promised, but he refused to pay her. Instead, he pushed her to the ground and threatened her. Fozza’s daughter, Hasna, confronted him next. But he pushed her to the ground and threatened her as well.

What started as one incident soon spiraled into a series of mistreatment and threats toward the whole family, even Fozza’s young children. In order to avoid paying them for their work, the landowner used any method he could think of to frighten the refugee family. Then, one night, he pointed a gun at them and kicked them off his land.

It was dark and cold. Once again, Fozza and her family found themselves fleeing into the unknown for safety.

From struggle to hope

After walking through the night, Fozza’s family reached an informal refugee settlement in the valley. Mercy Corps was there to provide the support they desperately needed.

Not only did we provide Fozza with clean water and sanitation facilities, we’re teaching refugees like her about how to prevent and cope with gender-based violence like the mistreatment they experienced with the landowner through our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) programs funded by the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration (BPRM).

Understanding of gender-based violence is very low in many areas in Lebanon, so the sessions are vital to raising awareness about how to make refugee settlements and Lebanese host communities safer.

Girls, boys, women and men attend a series of lessons that highlight how they should be safe from all kinds of violence and abuse, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Attendees learn about their right to receive help to stop abuse and how to find care and support. They also learn about the risks of early marriage.

“A lot of things would have changed if we were introduced earlier to the [gender-based violence] program,” Fozza’s daughter, Hasna, says. “We wouldn’t have tolerated the violence performed by the previous landowner. We thought we had no choice.”

“I wasn’t able to speak about the incidents with the previous landowner,” Fozza says. “I thought I was protecting my family by doing so, but now I learned that the best way to protect my family against any kind of violence is by reporting it.”

More than 70,000 Lebanese and Syrian people like Fozza have benefited from gender-based violence programming in Lebanon. In a life of transition, they now have knowledge and resources to help them cope with difficult experiences.

“A small beacon of hope is shining,” Fozza says. “I’m grateful of what I have now.”

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