By Singapore News Team (Originally in English)
The severe winter storm, Alexa, swept across the Middle East affecting countries including Syria and Lebanon beginning December 10, 2013. Over the next few days, it brought freezing temperatures to thousands of refugees living in informal tented settlements throughout the Bekaa Valley in east Lebanon.
Out of deep concern for all those having to endure such dangerously frigid weather, Supreme Master Ching Hai requested our Association members to help and graciously contributed US$20,000 for the relief effort. Our Association members from Lebanon, Syria and Singapore quickly began a humanitarian aid operation that was completed on December 27, 2013.
Master’s generous support enabled our relief team to distribute 2,505 winter blankets to a total of 852 families in need throughout the central Bekaa Valley.
On December 20, 2013, our relief team set off to Zahlé, the largest city in Bekaa Valley, to assess the situation. Just as our team was about to reach Zahlé, our Syrian Association members stopped to ask for directions at a place which was in fact a Lebanese Red Cross office. Our relief team was immediately able to arrange a meeting with the head of the Lebanese Red Cross in the Bekaa District, Mr. Walid Kayal, to gather more information. It was one of many fortunate events that occurred throughout this relief work.
According to Mr. Kayal, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were already helping the refugees, who were urgently in need of blankets. However, there were many individuals and families who had not registered with any humanitarian agencies and were also in immediate need of assistance.
Mr. Kayal gave our relief team his full support, providing individuals to help and also arranging transportation during the distribution, as well as sharing information regarding the locations of refugee camps and blanket manufacturers/suppliers.
The following day, our relief team members met with Mr. Joseph, the Lebanese Red Cross team leader for Zahlé. Mr. Joseph took our team to visit many of the approximately 100 camps scattered throughout the central Bekaa Valley. The conditions at all the camps seemed similar: makeshift tents made of little more than plastic sheeting nailed to wooden frames that had been built by the refugees. Some had heating in their tents and others had none. Only by checking every tent in the camps could our team members understand what each family required.
The Lebanese Red Cross was of great help as they had been assisting these refugees since they arrived two years ago, while Mr. Joseph proved to be invaluable as he knew the exact requirements of each camp.
Our team focused our relief efforts on Zahlé, where about 90 percent of the refugees were located. We spent two days sourcing the finest possible blankets to give to the refugees and purchased 2,500 of them, which were swiftly delivered to Lebanese Red Cross’s warehouse in Zahlé.
The Red Cross was very happy with the contribution and Mr. Joseph commented that it was the first time that the Lebanese Red Cross had received such a high-quality type of blanket. They could keep a person warm in weather as cold as minus 10 degrees Celsius. In addition, the supplier surprised everyone with a gift of five extra blankets, making it a final total of 2,505 blankets.
Next, Mr. Joseph and his team joined our relief team at a printing shop to get relief aid coupons printed and ready for distribution. These could later be exchanged by the families for blankets.
Distribution began on December 24. Almost all of the families in the first camp had children. The blanket coupons were given to the head of the camp who allocated them among the families.
In the midst of the blanket distribution, a young boy came over to one of our Association members who was holding a photo of Master. “This is our Master,” our Association member said to this boy. “She’s a Buddha,” replied the boy after looking at the photo, and ran off, laughing very happily. It was an amazing experience for our Association member since he had not met any Syrian boys who spoke English during this trip, nor had he heard of Buddhism being taught in Syria. This melted the hearts of other relief team members after he shared this incident with us.
Distribution continued and 336 blankets were given to 112 families located in three camps.
Our relief team and Mr. Joseph decided that our team would visit smaller camps first, particularly those with families in acute need, or those not already being taken care of by any humanitarian aid agencies. Mr. Joseph dedicated December 25 to identify these camps and distribution continued the following day.
On December 26, 2013, a total of 575 blankets were given to 193 families in five camps. At two of these camps, children personally came out to receive their blankets from our team. We were filled with happiness seeing the joyful smiles on the faces of these lovely young people.
Distribution of the blankets continued on December 27, 2013. At sunset, 4:30pm, the temperature dropped to 7 degrees Celsius. At one of the camps, blankets were also given to an elderly man as well as two other elderly women who lived alone. That day, 12 camps were visited and 1,594 blankets were given to 547 families.
For the entire week, while our relief team was carrying out our mission, we were blessed with fine, sunny weather. Even at night, the temperatures stayed above zero. Rain came on December 28, 2013 to Bekaa Valley and continued for the next few days, with temperatures dropping below zero. In total, 20 camps and nine tents by the roadside were assisted by our relief team over three days.
Before our team departed from Lebanon, Mr. Joseph informed us that Lebanese Red Cross would be sending a report to the media about their work with many NGOs throughout the week, including the joint effort with our Association relief team. He was very thankful for the timely delivery of blankets before the next winter storm approached.
Our team was grateful to Mr. Joseph for his help, his commitment, his love for his work, and for being a volunteer who has served selflessly for 22 years with the Red Cross. Also our team was very thankful to Mr. Walid Kayal, head of the Lebanese Red Cross in the Bekaa District, and to all individuals who helped during this relief effort. Our deepest gratitude to Supreme Master Ching Hai for allowing us to share in sending Her heartfelt concern and love to the Syrian refugees in east Lebanon. We continue to pray for all displaced people around the world. May Heaven bless them with much warmth during this cold season and with a quick return to their homes and normal lives.
Expenditures by Supreme Master Ching Hai
for Winter Relief Aid to Refugees in Lebanon
The relief team paid for their own accommodations, food and transportation, which totaled approximately US$2,100.