Yes, that’s a picture of flaming tires blocking a road. And yes, it was taken recently in the country we do our Syrian refugee relief work in.
There are new storms swirling about us and the refugees now. Not just the typical winter storms – although those have been particularly bad this year with record rains and prolonged cold. Political and social storms are sweeping the region, and our host country is swept up into them as well.
For over three months now, there’s been an ebb and flow of street protests, road blocks and vandalism of government buildings and banks by protesters. The protesters are upset at perceived government failures that have led to nation-wide economic problems and price inflation.
The problems here are real. The local currency has lost about 50% of its value in a few months, and prices are skyrocketing like we’re living in Venezuela. As an example, 1kg of ground beef used to cost $5 about two months ago. Now it is $12 and climbing. The cost of every other basic good needed for life out here is being affected.
The cost of living is becoming untenable for many locals, much less the refugees. Along with the economic collapse there’s been a shortage of day labor jobs and manual labor work that refugees typically did to scrape by each month. They receive little to no help from the UN any longer. With no jobs available they’ve been affected the most.
It is not uncommon for us to encounter families in our refugee community that can only feed their children once or twice a day at most. Often the meal is just bread, oil, salt and some vegetables or sardines they scrape together if lucky. Some can’t afford enough heating fuel so they leave their homes cold and damp a large part of the day. This has been resulting in what seems to be an increase in pneumonia and other respiratory illness amongst their children. We see them every week in our medical outreach, and have had to treat a LOT more chest infections than a typical winter. Living in a cold damp flat with only one or two meals a day certainly doesn’t help their little immune systems stay strong.
From talking to other ministries out here, we know this problem is affecting refugees across the nation and not just the mountains. We’ve had some local churches reach out for help to care for their own refugees as the demands are becoming too great for them to handle. Unfortunately we are rarely able to help beyond our own community needs these days, but are praying the Lord might provide for them in some way. Everyone is struggling to weather this new storm now.
Helping With Winter Needs
We are thankful that the Lord has provided for some of the needs here via many of you reading these updates. As the coldest days of winter set in, we were able to buy several heaters for some needy refugee families. They were very thankful as we delivered them to their frigid homes, and they got them set up right away.
We’ve also been able to help buy a few gallons of heating fuel per family every week or two. I would estimate that program is helping roughly 180-200 of the poorer people in the community. It’s not enough to keep them warm all the time, but it is helping offset some of the need. With the economic collapse out here there’s been a shortage of heating fuel due to providers not having enough money in USD to import enough of it. Sometimes we’ve had to hunt around for a long time to find a gas station that could fill even a few jugs to give to a refugee family. Sometimes we’ve come back empty handed and had to wait until the next day to catch a delivery truck at the right time. Things are more difficult now than any previous winter.
Helping With Food Needs
We are also thankful the Lord provided some additional funds last month to allow us to provide extra food for people beyond what we typically could in a winter month. We were able to buy large amounts of Arabic bread to deliver to dozens of families in the local community. Bread might seem pretty basic, but it is a staple in their diets, and remains relatively affordable in the midst of the price inflation.
In addition, we’ve been able to continue our food voucher program in partnership with a local grocer. This is a different approach than us building a food parcel that we would give directly to them. The vouchers give the family $30 to spend at the grocer. This allows individual families to go to the grocer to purchase what they need at their home, rather than us giving them standardized packs of food that may or may not fill their current family need.
The grocer also enforces our strict limits to nutritional goods only and honors our request to not allow things like coffee, tea, candies for kids, etc… We find that this approach restores some dignity to the refugees. They feel less like beggars receiving food parcel handouts when they can go to a store themself to buy some basic needs.
As simple as giving out food seems, in the current crisis it is definitely a valid need. We’ve had mothers burst into tears when they receive a voucher, saying they had run out of food that day and had not been able to feed their children yet, nor did they know how they were going to.
We have had some people tearfully tell us that if it weren’t for the food help from the ministry here, they may have quietly starved to death. That may sound extreme, but in a harsh environment like this place, a lack of nutritious food can lead to sickness and, without medicine, death.
Helping With Medical Needs
We are also thankful that during this winter season we had an RN training to be an NP come out to help with a slew of medical cases. He dove right in to help, and probably saw hundreds of individual patients during his month stay here. Undoubtedly some of the children were spared a hospital admission, or worse, because of the prompt care he was able to give during the peak sickness period a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately he was so engrossed in caring for the sick that he got sick himself, and left here with a probable case of pneumonia or bronchitis. Pray for those who help here, we are subject to many of the same challenges and sicknesses as the refugees.
We are still regularly seeing new medical needs every week. And the Lord continues to provide just enough for the large amount of medicines each week – sometimes 2-3 large cardboard boxes full to transport them – we purchase for the refugees from a pharmacist we partner with. These medicines are helping to heal sick children, keep the elderly alive that have blood pressure/diabetic problems, and treat dozens of people from the community each week. Providing needed medicines for the refugees has, and continues to be, one of the primary needs out here, especially as the cost of medicine goes up and refugees have little hope of affording them.
Thank You For Praying And Helping
One of the long-serving, prominent politicians in our host country said the other day that the current crisis here is the worst he can recall. It’s the worst we’ve seen here in the four plus years that Thirsty Ground has worked with refugees. Now more than ever we continue to need your prayers and support. We are surrounded by a sea of needs, amidst a storm of social turmoil, and only have the Lord to look to for help.
Thank you again for your prayers and support. This is a work bigger than any of us, but not bigger then God or His church! If you wish to be involved in any way, you can support TGI via our site, sign up for our relief updates e-mail newsletter to better know how to pray, or contact us if you are interested in knowing more about how to be personally involved.