World Vision Australia's social media manager, Joy Toose, spent a month reporting from Lebanon about the Syrian refugees who have sought shelter there from the violence at home. She wrote several amazing blogs for us from Lebanon, but I was curious to get her thoughts on the experience as a whole now that she's back home.
I wasn't disappointed. Check this out.
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1. You’ve wanted to visit and report from a World Vision disaster response site for a while. Why is that?
I’ve worked with World Vision for just over four years now, starting in customer service and then moving into communications, and I’ve always wanted to support our emergency response. It’s a time when our staff on location need help from overseas. In some cases, like when the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, staff and their families may be directly affected by the crisis. Even without personal tragedy, the work involved in an emergency response is enormous, and local staff often work crazy hours over long periods of time. So I’ve always felt that emergency response communications would be a good way for me to lend a hand at a time when it’s most needed.
2. Earlier this summer, you got your chance: to report from Lebanon about the Syrian refugee crisis. What did you think when you received that opportunity?
The first thing I thought about was how I was going to tell my mum! Beirut pops up on the news every now and then, for all the wrong reasons. I knew she would worry while I was away.
Mostly, I was really grateful for the opportunity. The Syria crisis had been on my heart for a long time. On the few occasions I had seen the Syria crisis on the news, there hadn’t been any mention of the people displaced by the crisis, it was all about the politics. Whereas at work we were hearing about an unprecedented refugee crisis, which governments and charities were struggling to cope with. I was eager to help World Vision continue to tell the stories of these families.
Of course I was also nervous! I hadn’t tried my skills in an emergency situation before and I felt a huge responsibility to bring back stories that would help people connect with Syrian refugees and their situation.
3. What did you expect to see and write about while in Lebanon?
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I naively thought that the most heartbreaking stories –refugees reflecting on why they left Syria – were the exceptions, the worst of the worst. On arriving in Lebanon I quickly learned that this wasn’t the case. I was shocked by the stories I heard from families and children who had seen friends and relatives killed, or had been injured themselves. Every family I met had a painful story of loss, and it really deepened my understanding of what it takes for someone to leave their country.
4. What most closely met your expectations?
The World Vision staff in Lebanon. I’d been told that I would meet passionate, hard-working staff, and I did! The conflict in Syria has been going on for two years now, and World Vision Lebanon has been working to help Syrian refugees access essentials like food and water. The staff were flat out when I was there, and have been working in emergency mode for months. Patricia and Sandy, the communications team, receive requests from around the world and often work long hours and weekends to keep up with demands. Despite this, they were all so passionate about our work and showed so much compassion for the Syrians who are seeking refuge in their country.
5. What surprised you the most?
Two things surprised me. One broke my heart, the other gave me hope. The first shock came when I asked children about their lives. I could see the conditions they were living in – often crowded tents with few belongings. They missed their schools, their friends, and their homes. But when I asked about life now compared to Syria, they told me how they used to hear bullets and shells falling close to their homes, how they were scared. Now they felt safe.
Time after time, I was blown away by the responses. I guess I had been thinking of life before the fighting – but the fighting has been going on for two years, and even for children who can remember peaceful times, the memories of fear and violence loom large. It was hard to hear these answers coming from children and it really hit me how much this conflict has affected them.
The second thing that surprised me was the general attitude toward refugees. In my home country of Australia, the topic of refugees is highly controversial. Many Australians want to see fewer arriving on our shores. In Lebanon, the influx of refugees has already had a huge impact (Syrians make up more than 10% of Lebanon’s population!). Temporary shelters have sprung up on roadsides, farms, and any free land, and increased pressure on electricity causes regular outages. Considering this, I was impressed with the compassion of the Lebanese people. When I asked how they felt about the refugees, a common response was, “What else can they do?”
I’m so thankful for this attitude. It gives me hope for children and families who have lost so much. I just hope that other countries come to Lebanon’s aid. As a country of under 4.5 million people, this crisis places Lebanon under extraordinary pressure.
6. Now that you’re back home, what parts of your trip have stayed with you most strongly?
I think often about the children I met. As an adult, I find that years seem to fly by, and to be honest not much in my life changes. I have the same husband, same job, same apartment. But I remember how much each year counts when you’re a kid. Every year you grow older, you learn new things, you finish another grade of school.
I really worry about the impact that these years of limbo will have on children. Beyond the day-to-day frustration and boredom, I worry about their future, how they will catch-up on these lost years.
Make a one-time donation to help World Vision provide emergency assistance for Syrian refugees who have fled the escalating violence in their country. Your gift will help us bring interventions like food vouchers, cooking supplies, water and sanitation initiatives, education programs, and more. Many families have lost everything as conflict has taken their homes and livelihoods.
Please join us in prayer for all World Vision staff members working around the world, particularly in this region of conflict.