As world leaders debate what to do about the conflict in Syria, more and more families continue fleeing the violence — many of them to a safer, though still uncertain situation in Lebanon.
Life as a guest in this small, struggling country is difficult, with no camps and an already weak economy leaving Syrians on their own to find shelter in abandoned buildings and work illegally to feed their children.
This month, meet Ghassan Wehbe, part of the Mercy Corps team responding to the refugee crisis in Lebanon.
After experiencing firsthand the devastation wrought in his own country by the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, Ghassan is passionate about empowering communities to help themselves through conflict. His gentle poise and easy smile make him well-loved across neighborhoods and nationalities — an ideal mentor for both the volunteers he recruits and the kids he helps through the difficult months ahead.
My position with Mercy Corps: I am a program manager for our Psychosocial Response Support for Vulnerable Refugees (PRSVR) and other programs that support youth and families in the Bekaa Region of eastern Lebanon. Our work helps Syrian children who have fled from the violence that has flooded their country, as well as Palestinians who were already refugees here and Lebanese kids who are part of host communities.
At our child-friendly spaces, we offer different kinds of activities that Mercy Corps has designed for children. Comfort for Kids is designed especially for children between five and nine years old and uses a workbook to help them write and draw their stories. The activities help the kids process what happened in the conflict and just be kids. Moving Forward is for adolescents between 10 and 19 years old, and we focus on sport and social activities to build confidence and leadership.
Making a lasting impact: From my point of view, the main issue during war or conflict is to take care of children and their families. Children can especially be affected for the long-term during their life. Helping children talk about what they’ve experienced can help lighten their way and better prepare them to continue their journey in this life after the conflict.
We’re also helping develop a stronger culture of child protection. We help families with case management to improve their access to social services. Through awareness-raising and community-based activities, we want to build the community’s ability to prevent, identify and respond to child protection violations. And we’re helping develop a strong national emergencies strategy for child protection and coordination by providing technical support to the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs and other government agencies and civil society organizations.
Overcoming challenges: I have worked for several local NGOs helping and supporting my community in different development projects, as well as volunteering in different activities related to youth, children and women’s rights. It’s always a challenge to face regional or political issues that you cannot change.
But smiles bless this work. Especially when you are working in an emergency situation like this current crisis, you have to always be the force for optimism and hope. You have to be positive and open-minded. I’ve learned that an unexpected problem can be solved with an unexpected solution. You have to be ready to run with an idea and try it out.
Why I love what I do: One of my favorite moments was during a distribution last winter for newly arrived refugees. One family — a mother, father and seven children — had come from Syria the week before and had nothing but the clothes they were wearing. We gave them clothes for the winter, and you cannot imagine the smiles that rose on their faces. You would have thought that heaven had just arrived on earth.
I love everything about this work. You can see the happiness on the children’s faces when they come to our activities, so full of joy, and they insist on coming back. Hearing the thanks from families we help is the greatest reward.
Hopes for my country and for Syria: I hope Lebanon stays away from the conflict and the differences between sects and religions in this country. For Syrian refugees, I hope they can return home to a safe and secure country and can rebuild what’s been destroyed.
Families don’t care about politics. All what they want is to get back to their homes, neighborhoods and villages safely. They just wish to live their lives peacefully again.
How you can help
As the conflict intensifies in Syria, more families are fleeing to neighboring countries seeking safety. Your support is more crucial than ever to ensure refugees have the help they need to put their lives back together.