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Smiles for Syrians

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Tucked between snow-topped mountains, Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is home to dozens of ramshackle camps housing Syrian refugees who have little to protect them against the cold.

It was the image of children with no shoes in the bitter winter and mud that Hala Habib Qiblawi, a designer and mother of three, couldn’t get out of her mind over the past year.

“It was the first thing … the only thing that stayed in my head,” she says.

This year, she decided to do something about it. She was in the process of organizing her campaign, procuring winter boots for children, when Lebanon was hit by one of its coldest spells and harshest storms in memory. That’s when Qiblawi realized she wasn’t the only one who felt compelled to do something.

“Everybody was so angry, angry at the government, angry at the silence,” she says. “Everybody was thinking of the refugees. And seeing that anger — and I myself worried and angry — I launched it.”

She started a Facebook campaign, “Rain Boots for Syrian refugee children,” with a target of 2,000 pairs of boots. The response stunned her. She achieved her goal within the first 24 hours, ending up with thousands more pairs.

And the boots keep coming.

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“It’s like really seeing, realizing that there is still humanity on earth, especially in this part of the world,” Qiblawi says.

Helping to organize the distribution is Sawa for Syria, a nongovernmental organization started over coffee with friends by Rouba Mhaissen, a 25-year-old Lebanese Syrian.

A Ph.D. candidate living in London, Mhaissen came back to Lebanon two years ago for a visit and just couldn’t leave.

“The number of refugees has reached a ceiling of 2 million in Lebanon with a complete chaos in NGOs, a complete lack of institutional coordination. So grass-roots organizations like us and many other initiatives are taking the lead to try and do something, but still the need is very very high.”

Sawa for Syria now has some 2,000 members, all volunteers, and helps manage and distribute aid to camps across the Bekaa Valley.

“Sometimes you feel like no matter what you do, you are just doing 1% of the need,” Mhaissen says. “But at the same time when you see a child smiling, a mother happy that her son got something, those moments do count.”

As Qiblawi says one of her friends put it: “It’s like giving them a Cinderella moment. It’s true — seeing the happiness on the children’s faces, with dignity, they were all so proud and dignified.”

 

 

 

 

Original post found on: CNN

Images courtesy of  Magui Al Ahmar and Tariq Keblaoui

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