Mercy in Beqaa

East of Beirut, beyond the western Lebanese mountain range, lies the Beqaa Valley. It is a quieter escape from bustling Beirut. The large valley is marked by green and beautiful locales including the farm of Taanayel and the many vineyard rows of the Ksara winery. Not far from these two sites, the small group I was with two weeks ago made our final stop. It was called الرحمة (Rahma) meaning mercy.

We had come to see what a refugee camp was like, and how we might help. Perhaps we’d play with the kids and have some nice visits with their parents, assess some needs. We pulled up, stepped out of the car, and a dozen kids were asking us “keefak, sho ismak,” (hi, how are you) and, “min wayn inta?” (where are you from). We joined in the game, “MniH, keefak, where are you from.” They all shared a place of origin: Syria.

There were soccer balls to kick and high fives to hand out and photos to take. Life was good. This was turning out well. We were already having fun with our new Syrian friends. And then a man, looking in charge, firmly told the two Arabic-speaking friends in our group that this was not allowed. We could not just show up and take photos. There were rules.

After attempts to connect to a person who had referred us to the camp, and an explanation that we were there to see how we could help, we were allowed to continue and visit particular in-need families. We could take photos, but only of those families we meant to help.

And so, I and an Arabic-speaking friend were whisked to a few tents. Practically each new host told us they had been waiting for us to visit their tent since we had arrived at the camp.

There was an eye surgery needed. There was a man whose wife had cancer. There was man with complications from wounds from a bomb who needed to travel out of country for medical expertise. There was a boy of sixteen or so with a disease that made his body attack his cells.

They explained their problems, their inability to solve them. They looked at us, they waited for our response. If I used my imagination now I could see their eyes widen as we tell them they would get the medical attention they needed. I can only imagine it however, because it didn’t happen. All we were able to offer was a promise to do our best. As I dug deep, the only thing I could think of was to try to put their stories up on the web and gather donations for their ailments.

We explained this option. An option filled with maybe. Maybe we could raise enough money. Maybe we couldn’t. There was no widening of the eyes in sudden relief. No certainty that their problem would be solved. But there was no narrowing of the eyes either, no extra anger or frustration, only thank yous and wishes of peace and smiles and handshakes and cheek kisses and utterances of hamdulila (thank god). They were thankful for our visit and our promised effort.

And so, here I am, writing this article about these families. Let me tell you more about two of them whose need is well-defined.

First we met a timid boy named Hisham. We had to do some coaxing to take this photo.

Hisham, a Syrian child, lives in Rahma. A shock from the war caused him to see double.

Hisham’s father explained that during the war, there was some kind of shock that hit Hisham, they are not exactly sure when. It caused his eyes to become crossed. Now he sees double of everything. They had a doctor look at his situation before and were told it could be fixed by an operation. This operation would cost $2,500. A hefty sum for those trying to recover from fleeing their country. We told his father that we would do what we could.

In total we visited four tents. The last one was home to Ayham.

Ayham, also Syrian living in a the camp. He has a disease that causes his muscles to atrophy. Lives in a lot of pain yet still maintains a sweet demeanor.

If Hisham appeared a little timid, Ayham appeared even more so. He had trouble making even small movements with his arms and feet. But he did give a few great smiles. His father explained he has a disease where his body is attacking his own cells, his muscles are deteriorating and doctors give him until till about eighteen years-old to live. I think they said he is now sixteen.

The thought of it — two years and that’s it. And here he was shyly smiling at a visitor sitting next to him, who mistook the Minions backpack on the ground for Spongebob. Reflecting now, I wonder, when this family counts all they have lost, how do they bear the thought of adding him to the list two years hence? And reflecting then, sitting crossed-legged on the floor, I wondered what can we do for them given this diagnosis? I soon had an answer to that question.

The father continued explaining. He said Ayham experiences a lot of pain, you see, because of his disease. Yes it does sound painful to have your body to attack your cells. Just to see the way Ayham sits with muscles contracted in odd positions looks painful. And apparently it is at least as painful, and more probably, than it looks. But there is medicine that can help.

His father told us there are a set of needles that can make the pain really be ignored, really make it okay. These needles cost $200/month. The difficult part about that is, the father brings in $200/month for the family. If they buy the medicines, they would not afford their basic foods and other needs. And so, in the twilight of his young life, they cannot afford the relief of Ayham’s pain.

But of course there is something that can be done to help. It is really just a matter of some coordination and money. With those two things, Ayham’s pain can be relieved and Hisham’s vision can be fixed. These are two cases in a vast, vast ocean of need. Helping these cases may seem to make only a very small difference in the refugee crisis. But this relief and fixed vision means so much to these families and to Ayham and to Hisham. How can helping two people with difficulties so deep be a small thing? It means the world to these two families. Two worlds’ worth of change, two worlds’ worth of help.

After explaining Ayham’s situation, his parents introduced us to another son. They wanted him to sing to us. So kneeling on the rug, this humble boy sang a religious tune, verses from their holy book:

The song, in this context, was so much to take in. When it was over, I looked at my friend and saw that my eyes were not the only wet ones. The boy’s parents indicated a medal he had won for his singing. They told us his voice was even better when he didn’t have allergies. Remembering that, lightens my mood. His parents punctuating this beautiful moment by insisting his voice could be better. I believe them, but at that moment it was hard to imagine something with more heart.

We told them we’d do our best to help them. So here it is. I invite you to join me, if you are able, in helping these two families. You can donate or help spread the word about their situation by sharing this article. We’ve set up a donations page and plan to work through medical professionals to get them what they need if we get enough donations. Here are the donation pages:

Donate to: Help Hisham Get Eye Surgery

Donate to: Relieving Ayham’s Pain

And, by the way, there is plenty of work to be done in this area. With that in mind, my coworkers and I decided to make this a personal project called Project Jinn. If you would like to see more of what we do to help refugees, please visit our website at http://projectjinn.com. We will have news and updates to read and listen to there.

Thank you for helping bring mercy to the Beqaa.