Lutheran Disaster Response

Our response to disasters in the U.S. and around the world; look for sections of this blog related to specific disaster locations. Comments are welcomed and moderated.

Syria: Raising Awareness Against Gender-Based Violence

Posted on September 30, 2013 by Megan Brandsrud


Children from Za'atri camp attend a puppet show that raised awareness against gender-based violence.

Children from Za’atri camp attend a puppet show that raised awareness against gender-based violence.

Since the onset of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, the crisis has continued to grow in size and scope. Millions of Syrians are seeking refuge in neighboring countries. In coordination with Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Lutheran Disaster Response is assisting the Syrian refugee population in Za’atri camp, located in northern Jordan. Za’atri camp is hosting approximately 125,000 Syrians, who are all seeking life-saving assistance.

In addition to providing shelter and non-food items, LWF is also implementing psychosocial interventions at Za’atri. In August, LWF hosted a puppet show to raise awareness against gender-based violence. The show was attended by many women and children, who are the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees as they are particularly at risk of sexual harassment and exploitation. The activity provided a fun and safe atmosphere for the attendees.

These refugees have been driven from their homes due to violence and hunger. Through your generous gifts, we are there to provide basic humanitarian needs, and we are also there to implement these important programs that educate about conflict and how to re-build. As security in the area of Za’atri continues to be a concern, these programs can be life-saving. We will continue to work with LWF to provide assistance to this impacted population.

Jordan: Making Life “More Bearable” for Children at Za’atri Refugee Camp

Posted on April 12, 2013 by Matthew Ley
Children in the Za’atri refugee camp play outside their newly installed winterized shelter. Credit: A. G. Riisnes/NCA

Children in the Za’atri refugee camp play outside their newly installed winterized shelter. Credit: A. G. Riisnes/NCA

When we give a gift to say, Lutheran Disaster Response, it feels good. We most likely have read a story that made clear to us the need, connected with us and called us to action. Then we go on with our lives, work calls our attention, events with family and friends fill up our calendar; life keeps moving. Possibly from time to time we think back and wonder what may have happened with our gift. This is one of those times.

In January the ELCA, working through our membership in the Lutheran World Federation, responded to the needs of Syrian refugees in Za’atri camp on the northern border of Jordan. (see previous post) The main purpose of this need was around the harsh winter and its affects upon particularly children within the camp.

“We received the shelters during the rains, but before the snowfall. Our first night in the prefabricated shelter was the first night we felt safe and warm in Za’atri refugee camp.” – Omar Yaser, Za’atri camp resident

This effort made it possible for children and families to find warmth in the midst of the cold as well as a sense of peace and home in the midst of uncertainty and fear. And thus seemingly small gifts, easily forgotten, and seemingly commonplace items, like insulated walls and blankets, have been transformed into safe and potentially life-saving spaces for families in need. A true moment of neighbor helping nameless neighbor.

To learn more about this effort, check out the LWF post Winterization Kits Make Camp Life “More Bearable” for Syrian Refugees.

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Syria: Cold Temperatures & Warm Hearts

Posted on January 17, 2013 by Matthew Ley

Girls line up before starting school in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, located near Mafraq, Jordan. Opened in July, 2012, the camp holds upwards of 50,000 refugees from the civil war inside Syria, but its numbers are growing.

“Thank God for our humanity.”

This quote is from Isam Alhuniti and is in reference to the Syrian refugee crisis. It is borne from his personal experience. You see, Isam lives in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where he owns an apartment building. Some of his tenants are Syrian refugees who are fleeing the violence in their home country. Though some families, like that of Souad Kasem Issa, her husband and their six children, have not been able to pay their rent in many months he is still helping supply them with food and blankets. He shared that this is because that at one time he had lived in the U.S. and was nearly bankrupted by his daughter’s medical bills. It was only through the help of some Catholics and social service groups that he was able to keep his family surviving.

Isam is not alone in both his personal story of struggle nor in his willingness to extend a helping hand and a warm heart to his neighbors. Dhamyah Mahdy Salih, a volunteer with International Orthodox Christian Charities, which has been working with Syrians both inside and outside Syria, has also connected Issa’s family with assistance. Salih is a refugee from Iraq, whose family has been in Jordan for nearly ten years. She said it was ordinary Jordanians who helped her family make it and now she wants to return the favor.

All of this is happening in the midst of one of the harshest winters in the region with blowing winds, dropping temperatures and heavy rain and snow. Many are suffering from these conditions, particularly the 612,000 Syrian refugees who are trying to find shelter and safety in neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In places like the refugee camp of Za’atari, on the northern Jordanian border, the situation is quite bad, with children and older adults being most susceptible.

Prior to this current situation the ELCA, through generous gifts of people like you, has given $450,000 to address the needs of Syrians within and outside Syria. Through our membership in the Lutheran World Federation, this response been helping to meet the needs of refugees at Za’atari. In the past week the ELCA has committed another $100,000 to the work in the camp to help meet the needs of children, to help keep them “warm and dry”. Yet as the situation within Syria and the weather in the region worsen, the need continues to be great.

As we continue through this season of Epiphany, of Christ revealing, may we stay aware of the needs in God’s world. And in this moment may we particularly lift up or brothers and sisters in Syria and the entire region, that though violence may rage and temperatures may drop, we can still thank God for our humanity and the opportunities will all have to reach out with warm hearts to meet our neighbors in their need.

For more information on the situation please check out the following reports:

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Syria: A View Inside a Jordanian Host Community

Posted on November 26, 2012 by Matthew Ley

Fleeing the conflict in Syria, Abir, 5, and his family found shelter in a cement factory in the north Jordanian town of Al Toura. Credit: ACT/Magnus Aronson

One of the major areas of the ELCA’s Disaster Response program is working with international companions and partners to meet the needs of refugees. As people are driven by hunger, disaster or violence to leave their homes and enter into neighboring countries, we work to be there, to help meet their immediate humanitarian needs as well as walk with them in the journey to re-establish themselves. In communicating about this good work it is easy to keep the focus on the needs of the refugees and look past the gifts given and potential strains on host communities.

A recent Lutheran World Federation article about the current situation regarding Syrian refugees flowing into Jordan (below) reminds us that not all refugees end up in refugee camps and that even when they do the communities who host them are altered, sometimes overnight. Take a look at the article and also remember that as we pray for those who must take on the life of a refugee we also remember those communities into which they come.

Read the full article: Welcomed into Homes, Garages and Local Town Hall
Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Syria: And Still They Come; Dignity in Numbers

Posted on September 28, 2012 by Matthew Ley

The situation in Syria continues to show up in our news. Usually it is a quick description of the conflict within the country or perhaps coverage of the geo-policital implications of these events for the region and the world. In the midst of these important, and often tragic, stories there is another narrative playing out involving Syrians looking for safety and resources, a journey which is increasingly taking many them across the border into neighboring countries. As the fighting within the country continues and intesifies this group is growing, rapidly.

So as I was reading through some reports on the refugee situation this past week I was struck by some of the numbers 700,000, 75 and 52. Initially they are just numbers, like any other scattering of statistics that help make up our news cycle. These numbers help give us context and help us as we work to determine appropriate response. What struck me was what do these numbers mean in the context of our call to respect human dignity in the course of our work. What are we to do with these three numbers and the situation they describe as we strive to accompany people in ways that respect their human dignity? And now the numbers.

Accorcding to a recent United Nations’ report the anticipated number of Syrian refugees by the end of this year has jumped from 100,000 (a number surpassed in July) to 700,000. This massive increase will put extra strains on Syria’s neighbors, who continue to keep their borders open to Syrians fleeing the violence. This strain will need a call for renewed commitment to keep the basic needs of human dignity in the forefront of any response. For our church this call will help in our partnership role through the Lutheran World Federation as it works to coordinate the Za’atri refugee camp in northern Jordan.

Part of the context of this work is that 75-percent of Syrian refugees are women and children. This means that many of those arriving in the camps are not only escaping violence and arriving with very little, they are also arriving as separated family units. In the midst of making sure children are getting enrolled in classes and families are getting proper nutrition and medical attention, responding through the matrix of human dignity also means creating space for the emotional and spiritual well-being of these new arrivals. As the Lutheran World Federation helps at Za’atri these are some of the concerns it brings to the work; to make sure the needs of both arriving refugees and host communities are being addressed.

In Za’atri one of the other realities is that 52-percent of arrivals are under 18 years old. Many arrive to the desert climate with very little in the means of heavy clothing, an unacceptable situation as they move towards the cold months of winter. Also with the rising numbers the need for educational and recreational space and activities increases. The Lutheran World Federation is working to provide winter-proofed tents and clothing for these children and their families as well as working to organize community-based groups within the camps to help them name and address their needs.

In the end these numbers help paint the picture of an evolving situation, one where the church is working to be vigilant and present in its calling to care for the least of these. And one where we work to make manifest the reality that all are created in the image of God and are to be treated with the dignity that image carries.

To learn more about where these numbers come from and the situation in general you can read the UNCHR and LWF reports.

Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Syria: Lutheran Communion Responds in the Midst of Conflict

Posted on August 28, 2012 by Matthew Ley

As the conflict in Syria continues to worsen some Syrians are beginning to cross the border into neighboring countries like Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. These countries are continuing their practice of keeping open borders for incoming refugees, even as this number moves towards 140,000. Yet a major question that comes with accepting refugees is how to make sure the refugees’ needs are met in ways that do not overtax the local population and continue to respect the dignity of all.
As Syria’s southern neighbor, Jordan is currently addressing this question as it plays host to about 150,000 Syrians (39,600 of which are registered with the UN as refugees). To meet the needs of these refugees, Jordan has established Za’atari refugee camp. This camp aims to be a positive sign in the midst of the current conflict.

The ELCA is blessed to have an opportunity to be involved in this important work. Early on in this process, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) through its member church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), offered its services. In the midst of a conflict that has caused some to draw lines of distinction between religious groups, Jordan (where the official religion is Islam and the population is primarily Sunni) has chosen to work closely with Christian organizations, including the LWF, to deliver aid to incoming refugees from a primarily Muslim country.

The reason for this is simple: relationship. Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, who serves as Bishop of the ELCJHL and President of the LWF, has strong relationships with Jordanian leaders. As these officials began looking into how to address the needs of incoming refugees, they welcomed input from Bishop Younan. As a leader within our global communion, Bishop Younan offered areas of expertise within the LWF to ensure that those gifts benefitted both the Syrian refugees and their host government.

Working together, the needs of vulnerable people who have no other access to daily bread are being met in ways that neither the LWF nor the Jordanian government could do alone. This effort is a strong expression of the ELCA’s commitment to global accompaniment. It is what we in the church are called to do and to be, to be present in relationship where we gain the opportunity to truly be neighbor at home and across the globe.

For more on the situation and to hear from Bishop Younan, see the ELCA News Release.

To learn more about the ELCA’s response, see the ELCA Disaster Response page Syria Conflict.
Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.