Surprising Things Refugees Lose

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the world has reached the highest number of refugees and forcibly displaced people in history. As awareness of this global refugee crisis increases, stories of great loss abound.

Like Boshra, who lost her eldest daughter to a bomb attack. Tarek, a 5-year-old who lost his baby sister and bears burn scars on his tender boyish face. Ahmed, who lost the full function of his legs. Yussef, who lost his successful career as a chemical engineer. He now uses his Ph.Dd in education as a volunteer science teacher to refugee children. Thousands and millions of families who have lost their homes, land and all of their earthly possessions, assets and security. The children, who have lost years of education and the innocence of childhood.

But sometimes what we don’t see or read about the tragic intangible things refugees lose.

A few weeks ago, a refugee named Rahaf opened my eyes to some of the most difficult and intangible things lost when a family has to flee and become refugees.

Rahaf traveled by herself from Syria to Lebanon with her five children and one neighbor child she took in after the war took his family. Her husband fled Syria ahead of her to avoid conscription into the army. She fled after him once bombing forced schools to close and it was unsafe for her to live alone as a woman.

“We had a very good life,” Rahaf recalls. “My husband was a truck driver and made a good wage. We had a good house with a beautiful view. We made a good living and were very well off. We used to help those in need in our community. Now we have found the tables have turned.”

The Kindness of Others

Rahaf arrived in Lebanon with nothing. The family lived in a small apartment with another family who graciously welcomed them. With so little room, the family moved into their current one-room apartment in an old, abandoned building. A kind neighbor gave them a few old mattresses and a table so their new home would not be empty. Another neighbor tutored her children in English during the two years they were unable to enroll in school. Now Rahaf benefits from food vouchers. Her children attend a free, non-formal education program offered by a local Lebanese church supported by Food for the Hungry’s implementing partner, the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Assistance.

Rahaf knows her family couldn’t make it without this small assistance. Her husband suffers from epilepsy, and medication is expensive. Syrian refugees in Lebanon are extremely limited in options for legal employment, making a sustainable living almost impossible.

Longing to be Generous

Rahaf is grateful for the life-saving support she receives. But still, she longs for the day she can be generous to others again. “I hope that my husband will be healed. For my children, I hope that they will achieve good things with their life and find their place in society. I dream they become like Hala (a teacher at non-formal education program), respected and contributing to the community. I hope we can return to Syria, and I hope that one day we will be able to help others again.”

Rahaf lost all of her material wealth and possessions. This equates to the intangible losses of freedom, dignity and joy of generosity. These are the intangible losses we can’t see and that challenge me deeply.

Let us recognize and use the freedom of generosity we have now to support the millions of refugees around the world to regain these intangible losses and once again live fruitful, generous lives.

Here are three ways you can support refugees like Rahaf today:

  • Support the work of FH’s implementing partner LSESD in Syria and Lebanon: In partnership with the Integral Alliance and LSESD, Food for the Hungry helps provide food, shelter, hygiene kits, educational assistance, child-friendly spaces, psychosocial support and more. To learn more and to help with this life-saving work go to www.fh.org/syria.
  • Support Children In Crisis: If you are currently a Child Sponsor through FH, you can help children in crisis, like those in Lebanon and Syria, by contributing an additional $4 a month. This small amount can make a huge difference in supporting the basic needs of children in crisis.
  • Learn and Pray: Want to learn more about the plight of refugees? Today, there are more refugees than at any other time in history. Download Food for the Hungry’s free ebook, More Than a Refugee, to learn more about the refugee crisis, how life as a refugee destroys children’s futures, and steps you can take to make a difference.