Amar and her sisters wait their turn

Amar’s story first came to our attention when on a recent mattress and blanket distribution in her settlement.

Aid distributions were described to me as a fine example of organised chaos — I’ve since discovered that to be true but with little evidence of any organisation. Those that are on the list to receive the goods being handed out queue up impatiently to receive their allocation. Meanwhile those wanting to be on the list stand around shouting at the volunteers putting their case forward as to why they are more deserving than anyone else. An impossible negotiation is then conducted between the two parties — neither understanding a word the other is saying. And so, the mayhem multiplies. It is therefore somewhat miraculous that within this high tempered storm Amar’s case came to light.

On account of their blonde hair, pale skin and wide dark eyes, Amar and her sisters are striking looking. As the Shaweesh (Settlement Controller) showed us into to her family’s tent I instantly remembered Amar from the day of the distribution — she had been sent forward by one of the settlement elders to explain her situation. Just under a week later we were back to speak to her properly away from the chaos of the crowd.

The brothers and sisters — three of each — sat in front of us in a semi-circle in the middle of the family’s single room tent. The wooden walls were decorated with hearts cut out from old silver insulation lining. Amar sat quietly at the back, directly behind her eldest brother, Khalid as he described how their father was missing in Syria; long assumed to have been captured, he had almost certainly been killed. Their mother had moved the family to Lebanon before leaving them in favour of a new Lebanese lover.

Khalid described how he and his brothers go out to work as often as they can find it but they largely rely on the support of monthly UNHCR grants for food and oil to fuel their stove — though the oil grant was only for the winter. As the rain hammered onto the canvas roof of the tent, it had done so for the last three days, I wondered if March was still classified as winter. He confirmed that it wasn’t.

As far as the running of the house is concerned, this is Amar’s territory. She wakes at sunrise to prepare, cook, serve and wash up breakfast. Next she washes and dresses her young sisters before walking to collect enough drinking water for the day. The morning is set aside for cleaning the house and preparing, cooking, serving and then washing up lunch. The afternoon on most days requires a trip to the food shop up the road and on some days, she organises a top up of oil to be delivered to ensure the tent continues to get heat from the stove. Only once she’s prepared, cooked and washed up dinner and put her younger sisters to bed can she herself prepare to sleep, before repeating the process the next day.

Amar is 12 years old.

We asked if any of the children were going or had been to school since they arrived in Lebanon. Again, Khalid explained that none had — the boys didn’t want to because they needed to find work. And the girls? The two younger ones could he supposed, if transport could be found to take them. For Amar, he said however, it was not an option as she already had too much work to do.

And so, a new case file was born. As well as the basic and quite instant solution of providing more mattresses, blankets, toys and reading books, the primary objective is to get Amar enough support so that she can attend school.

As we left the tent I looked back at the young family, lined up in the rain, and was drawn to look towards Amar, retired behind her siblings in the doorway of her tent. I couldn’t work out whether the half smile on her face was an outward display of her incredible strength and bravery or a sign of a feeling of complete helplessness. Looking back, I think it was probably both.

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You can DONATE to Salam LADC, who seek out and support people like Amar, via this link ( and the money you donate will go directly to the entrepreneurial and educational initiatives, kids entertainment and medical care that Salam runs here in Bekaa Valley where there are at least 500,000 Syrian refugees.