The struggle to build a home away from home

Lebanon, Syria

July 15, 2015

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  • The makeshift shelter that Daad and her family live in now offers them little security and protection. Like many Syrian refugees, they are struggling to meet their most basic needs. All photos: Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

Sitting in her family’s tent in a farmer’s field in Lebanon, Daad, 39, remembers every little detail of the home she left behind in Syria: the furniture, her children’s rooms, the maroon color she painted the outside.

“Sometimes I just sit and think about the details of my house, some plant I put in the garden, or how we were happy building this house,” she says.

Now, Daad and her family are just a few of the 1.2 million Syrian refugees living in tiny Lebanon. There is safety there from the ongoing war in Syria, but living in Lebanon — which is now host to the highest concentration of refugees — presents its own challenges.

There are no official refugee camps for Syrians who’ve sought refuge in Lebanon. Refugee families are scattered, living in makeshift tent settlements, abandoned buildings, or with relatives if they are lucky. Without the structure of a camp, there are few services to help them cope.

Mercy Corps is working in Lebanon to help give refugees like Daad the daily essentials they need to survive. The sweltering summer heat increases the need for clean water and proper sanitation facilities, but often the local water shortages become even more severe.

In the Bekaa Valley — the country’s fertile agricultural region where most refugees have settled — we provide clean water, build latrines to improve sanitation and offer families hygiene kits that help keep them healthy.

Before fleeing Syria, Daad and her husband were both working for a dairy factory when her husband was shot in the leg on his milk delivery route. Despite the increasing violence, the family clung to their home and the life they had built. Until the reality became too dangerous to bear.

“After a while, [the militants] threatened us, ‘Either you leave the house or we’ll destroy it on your heads,’” Daad says. The family, including their 10-year-old daughter Haifa and 4-year-old son Haisam, left everything behind and walked for nine hours to get to safety in Lebanon.

“I took only my clothes and left the house with my kids,” she says. “That's it, I didn't take anything with me. We just walked, without even knowing where we would end up, or how we would eat, or where we would sleep or find shelter.”

Once in Lebanon, they found a small shared home to live in, but Daad later became pregnant with twins and was no longer able to work or help pay rent. The family’s only option was to build a tent shelter on a relative’s farm. “I didn’t know how to live in a tent. I used to live in a nice house. But we came here because we didn’t have any choice,” she says.

Daad holds her young twins, who were born after the family fled Syria for the safety of Lebanon.

Daad’s story is not unusual. Many Syrian refugee families came from a life of relative security — there was enough water, food, electricity, and even access to education. Now, everyday tasks like cooking, bathing and gathering water can be an arduous chore.

“We had to go back to basics. No luxuries,” she says. The family sometimes struggles to get enough food and water to go around, and the tent offers little protection from the elements.

“During winter we worked to take the snow off the roof or the tent would collapse because of the heavy snow,” says Daad. “Sometimes we didn't have water, so we would bring in snow and boil it and use this water.” The hot, dry summer is stifling — making the water they now have even more precious.

We installed a water tank for the family and connected it to a nearby well, bringing running water to their sink. We also built them a latrine and provide hygiene kits to help the family stay healthy.

“It is good for our well-being to have this,” Daad says. “Before we didn’t have these tanks so we had to borrow water from our neighbors. It makes life much better to have our own water in the tent.”

The family now has clean running water in their tent shelter, which helps them stay healthy, especially during the warm summer months.

These basic services help Daad and her family regain some of the dignity they’ve lost in the experience of being far from home. But they, like most Syrian refugees, still need more help.

“I was a normal person in my country. I had self-respect. I wasn’t rich, but I wasn’t poor,” says Daad. “But here they look at us and say, ‘you’re a refugee.’”

With no end to the war in sight, Daad and her husband are trying their best to make it through each season and provide a stable life for their family. She looks at her three kids in the tent. “We don’t know now what’s happening, but even if we get tired, we’ll still work hard because these children deserve a better life.”

*Daad’s name has been changed, and her face has not been photographed at her request out of concerns for her family’s safety.

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