BEIRUT — Life for Mohammad Hammoud and his wife, Khawleh Al-Hussen, is consumed with worry.
After fleeing their native Syria, the family made a home in Lebanon.
They live in rooms above the factory where Hammoud works, earning $90 a week. The concrete walls and broken windows will provide shelter — but not warmth — for their seven children this winter. And it has been three years since anyone in the family has attended school. The oldest children are forgetting how to read and write, the youngest never learned.
“We are living, but not decently,” said Hammoud.
Even though he doesn’t like to accept help, Hammoud is grateful for winter clothing, blankets, food and other supplies brought to his family by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Lebanon.
Members of the Beirut Branch gathered Saturday to prepare more than 100 food boxes for Syrian refugees in their city.
The U.N. high commissioner for refugees reported this year that the total number of refugees worldwide now exceeds 50 million — including some 6.5 million that have been displaced by the Syrian Civil War. Officially, some 1.14 million of those refugees have fled to Lebanon.
Father Paul Karam, president of Caritas Lebanon, said the humanitarian organization estimates, however, that there are closer to 1.6 million Syrian refugees in the city.
And when the number of Syrian refugees are added to the number of refugees from other countries, "refugees account for more than half the population of Lebanon," he said. "Can Lebanon afford this huge number of people? Can the infrastructure support this number of people? We are in a real crisis."
There is no doubt the Syria crisis — dubbed “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era” by the United Nations — has strained local resources in Lebanon, where they have not set up refugee camps. Multiple Syrian refugee families in Beirut live together in small apartments and most Syrian refugee children don’t qualify for public school.
Before fleeing their country, Hammoud and Al-Hussen lived “between the army and the airport” in Aleppo, Syria. When the war moved to their village, “we left our home and our country and we came here,” said Al-Hussen. “I still think about my life there. Our life here is OK, but it is not the same. We don’t have our parents or our family. We feel lonely here.”
Al-Hussen said they came to Lebanon because they had “no other solution.”
Now, she said, she worries constantly “about school and about the wintertime.”
“There is no future for the children,” Hammoud said. “Their future is destroyed.”
Carlos Nassif of the LDS Beirut Branch said people in his city are living in “difficult days.”
“A lot of people are hungry and needy and this way we can help them,” he said, looking at a food box containing an LDS Charities symbol.
Roger Trad, a new Latter-day Saint in the country, said preparing the food boxes marked his first opportunity to provide humanitarian aid to others in the area.
He said the LDS Church members understand the needs and hopes of the refugees “because we ourselves live in times of war.”
Karim Assouad, president of the LDS Church's Amman Jordan District — which includes Lebanon — said members of the small Beirut Branch are very responsive to church humanitarian efforts. "Whenever they know that we are going to do food packages, they come — even if they have one hour," he said.
After the food boxes arrived at Al-Hussen’s home, she sat on the floor with her daughters, prepared squash for dinner and talked about life in Syria.
“When I receive help I feel happy and sad at the same time because I don’t have anything to give back,” she said.
Still, Hammoud and Al-Hussen said they plan to share what they received from members of the Beirut Branch with Hammoud's brother and his family, who live behind the factory.
Hammoud said his family is obliged to accept help and to share it with others.
“The kids need to eat and drink. They cannot understand this situation,” he said. “Their future is important to me.”