Agency commits to long-term support for those in need in the Middle East and across the world.
Published on: 01-04-2024
On February 6, 2023, the earthquake that rocked Syria and Türkiye left the world shocked and shaken. Having been subject to protracted violence over many years, Syrian communities found their problems compounding as existing struggles ran up against new ones. For some families, sons bearing serious wounds and health conditions sustained during combat complicated the process of fleeing from crumbling homes and traveling across town to find new shelter. For others, the economic impacts of the long war had left some very full households with only one breadwinner.
Amid these tragedies, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Canada and ADRA Syria stepped in to help. The early response to the disaster involved meeting the most basic need of those resting in collective shelters: food. Focusing on Aleppo and Latakia, ADRA distributed food baskets and meals to those in need.
In the span of just three days, displaced people in Latakia received 3,500 meals, and about 1,360 were handed out in Aleppo. Different types of food packages were available for families in different situations. Some came with ready-to-eat items, while others contained dry, cookable food items like rice or pasta for those in locations with cooking capabilities.
In the meantime, ADRA provided a generator to the directorate of water resources in Latakia. Water infrastructure had been badly damaged during the earthquake, and the generator was one important piece in the work of repairing that infrastructure.
As the year has gone on, recovery work has trudged along — determined, but in some ways slow. The scope and scale of the damage and ensuing effects should not be underestimated, as it was a massive disaster affecting millions of people.
As ADRA has collected reports from families we have helped, the families share an uneasy mix of emotions. Gratitude floods from those who have received food from ADRA, many of them expressing that their families would not have made it through without this assistance. At the same time, these same displaced people have challenged the way that ADRA calculates its portions.
The ADRA food parcels were designed to provide enough dried and canned food for an entire family for five days. Reality is, at times, stubbornly difficult to calculate. In this case, there is no such thing as a “standard” or “normal” sized family. Families come in all shapes and sizes, especially when faced with dire survival circumstances. The result, in many cases, was a family leader saying, “Thank you so much for feeding my family, but by the way, I don’t think you realize just how big my family is.”
ADRA encountered a similar reality this year in Somalia. Cash and food assistance that was meant to help a family at certain moments didn’t account for how broad the term “family” would be applied by project participants. In many African and Middle Eastern contexts, the culture of hospitality and communal sharing of resources and goods is so strong as to defy Western modes of counting. And of course, some households are simply very large.
Fawza, a 50-year-old mother, shared her perspective on the food baskets with ADRA. “The basket that ADRA provides usually lasts for four days. I can tolerate hunger, but I can never accept seeing my children hungry and not being able to feed them.” This is not unheard of. In situations of food insecurity, we have seen parents forgoing meals to prioritize their children’s nutrition, ADRA Canada leaders reported. “It is not ideal, but it does speak to the compassion that parents have for their children and the way this compassion drives their priorities,” they said.
The people participating in ADRA’s projects on the ground in these disaster sites are sending a very clear message to ADRA’s donors: “We are givers too.” “The generosity of those living in dire need only reinforces the fact that there is still so much work to be done, and that until the work is done, the only way forward is through the spirit of giving,” ADRA Canada leaders said. “Perhaps it’s a dare or a challenge; perhaps the people who would have traditionally been labelled ‘beneficiaries’ are demanding to be seen as givers themselves, donors themselves, and partners of those of us who donate.”
ADRA Canada leaders further explained, “When a family in a collective shelter in Syria or a household in Somalia runs out of food ‘early’ because they decided to prioritize their culture’s definition of family over an NGO’s definition of portion size, we remember that we are not heroes rescuing helpless people,” leaders said, “but partners empowering capable moral agents to decide how to heal.”
In that regard, it is a situation that “reinforces ADRA Canada’s commitment to our longstanding value: to empower people to lift themselves out of poverty,” ADRA Canada leaders added. “Until the work is finished, in Syria and everywhere else, may the spirit of giving continue to drive us forward, until all may live as God intended.”