World Humanitarian Day: Reflections from Lebanon

Today is World Humanitarian Day, a day to recognize and honor the men and women around the world who risk their lives every day to help others.

World Vision writer and photographer Patricia Mouamar grew up in Lebanon during its civil war; now, as a humanitarian aid worker, she understands firsthand the trials faced by the refugees she is working to help.

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Like many boys his age, 9-year-old Abdurrahman imitates sounds. Today, he is imitating the sound of rockets.

He started with a "BOOM." Then he made a whistling, whispering sound followed by a childish replication of an explosion. He carefully left a few seconds between the two distinct sounds to be accurate. His rocket sounds were so realistic. He reminded me of the sound of rockets I heard when I was his age, during the civil war in Lebanon.

As a Lebanese citizen who was born during the war and lived all of my childhood in a country torn apart by conflicts and violence, I could not help but hold Abdurrahman's hand and tell him to stay strong, for his sisters and brother. "They need you," I told him.

All it took was few seconds and a few sounds from a child's mouth to bring back all the memories of destruction and fear I still have, piled up from my childhood.

Abdurrahman also explained to me the different sounds of a rocket launcher, a helicopter, and a MiG plane.

"If you hear the sound of helicopter, you have to run for your life,” he says. “But if you hear a MiG plane, that means you are still alive, because it is very fast and you only hear it after it hits; but that also means that other people have died," he says.

I wouldn't have imagined a child mastering this lexicon of war. The scenes and situations he has survived seem to be imprinted on his mind.

Will he still remember them when he grows up? Will he remember running for his life many times? I don't know. I know I do.

I remember the smell of my mother's fear as she gathered us inside an underground shelter during heavy bombing in the mid-1980s. This memory will never leave me. Nor will I ever forget the horrifying moment when our four-story building was shaking over our heads after being hit twice by rockets. This memory haunted me at night for years.

Many Lebanese brag about how resilient we are, how we are able to absorb the uninterrupted waves of violence that have been striking our country for decades. At times we rebel. Other times we become jaded, turning a blind eye to the misery surrounding us -- such is the case for many regarding the Syrian refugees.

Syrian refugees are in every corner of Lebanon. There is not a single area of Lebanon that has not been touched. The number of refugees has skyrocketed, with the government estimating that they now exceed 1 million in Lebanon alone, a big load to carry for country with a population of only 4 million.

I am Lebanese, and I am a humanitarian worker as well. Being a humanitarian worker is a privilege and a curse. You definitely have the rewarding sensation of making a difference, but to get there, it is simply painful. My job is physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging. I am constantly reminded by my friends to not get too attached. But that is impossible.

In some cases, while in the field, humanitarian workers become the beacon of hope for people in need. I put my personal needs and my personal troubles -- the load of work I carry from hundreds of emails -- behind me. Sometimes I even stray away from carrying out the task I was in the field to accomplish, like taking photos and writing stories, and I focus on helping people get the information they need, information that is often life-saving.

It’s easy to convince ourselves that there is little we can do to make a difference in the midst of such desperate and enormous need. But I am a believer that even small acts of kindness can make a difference to those who are suffering. Some days, even a smile can give comfort to a refugee who feels no one is listening to them.

That is why when I visit families, I always take time to sit with them and listen carefully to their stories, never forcing them to talk, but instead allowing them to share their experiences with me at their own pace.

No one should ever feel that the crisis is so big they can’t help. In the Syrian crisis (and other crises around the world), any aid can and does make a difference. Even if we can’t provide everything people need, when refugees know that other people in the world are thinking about them, praying for them, and supporting them, it helps them mentally, because they know they are not alone.

Happy World Humanitarian Day!

Make a one-time donation to help World Vision provide emergency assistance for Syrian refugees who have fled the escalating violence in their country. Help us show these refugees that they are not alone.

Please join us in prayer for all World Vision staff members working around the world, particularly in this region of conflict.

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