Sophina asked me to meet her the next day in the HRF offices in Birmingham, where she and Waseem Iqbal (head of international deployments), would go through the finer details with me, and also help me to start fundraising.
That was the start of my journey. One message that has changed my life.
My husband had been to Turkey, Lesvos, “the Jungle” and various other places to help within Refugee camps over the years. He would return full of stories that would break my heart. I always wanted to go, but having young children, and a busy job, made it difficult to find the time. Plus, I was always very apprehensive about the people who went - would I get on with them, would I agree with the way they do things etc.
So when I sat in HRF’s Birmingham offices and met some of the staff, I was pleasantly surprised that they were “on the same page” as me. I just wanted to help where I could, and they would help me do this. However, I was also quite scared of going, as I knew it would be an emotional journey, but I didn’t realise that the impact would be so strong.
When we landed in Beirut, I met the full team. There were 11 of us. Some had been on deployments before, and for a few of us it was the first time. On the journey from the airport to the hotel, Waseem gave us an introduction to how the refugees had ended up in Lebanon, what conditions they were living in, what amenities or lack of amenities there were, and a general overview of their situation. We also met Badih Ghazzawi, who works with Islamic Welfare Association (ISWA) - HRF’s Lebanese Charity partner, who take care of the logistical elements of distributing aid etc. I was also surprised that the Deputy CEO of HRF, Kassim Tokan, was also going to be distributing aid and fuel with us.
After a night's sleep, we made our way along the Bekaa Valley to the first camp, an impoverished town on the Syrian and Lebanese border. En route, Waseem and Badih explained the importance of what we were about to do, in that we were going to fulfil our obligations that these people had on us.
The people we met were like you and me, they’d lived in houses, had jobs, had friends and family, and it had all been taken away from them. Yet even after all this loss, they retained their dignity.
There is a way of giving to people which is most important. A way that prevents them feeling small. You give a big smile, and say thank you, because we are here taking prayers and good wishes from them. Imagine if we were in their shoes, how would we feel taking charity?