A woman cries as she holds a boy at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in Aleppo, Syria, March 6.


A woman cries as she holds a boy at a site hit by what activists said was a barrel bomb dropped by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in Aleppo, Syria, March 6.

March 17, 2014

Eleven years old, tops in her class, dreams for the future, a future wiped away with the blast of a bomb. Her mother and siblings, save a 10-year-old brother, were killed.

Now the Syrian child stands at a dusty roadside selling water to passing soldiers and workers. The $4 she makes each day is handed over to her father, who already has a new wife.

"Her future is gone," says Dr. Rita Rhayem.

The head of Caritas health department in Lebanon, Rhayem sees the conflict continuing and violence increasing. She witnesses Syrians seeking refuge in five neighbouring countries. They rush out of their homes, fleeing the bombs, bullets, lethal gas. They have nothing, only their clothes, maybe a bit of cash.

But realize that Syrian cash does not go far in Lebanon. "The prices in Lebanon are very high compared to those in Syria," says Rhayem.

The pharmacist told her story March 5 during her tour of Alberta to raise funds for Development and Peace's work in Lebanon.

Lebanon, the smallest of the surrounding countries, has taken 36 per cent of the fleeing Syrian neighbours. "Lebanon continues to maintain an open border policy and help them," reports Rhayem.

Lebanon itself is impacted by the ongoing Syrian crisis and its own resources have been stretched to the maximum.

"When you are facing someone desperately in need all you can do is help," says the pharmacist. "Lebanon itself is populated by four million. And we are receiving a million refugees."

She shies away from political questions, keeping on the message that Caritas needs Canada to help with desperately needed donations.

"From our point of view, it is a war. We don't name it. We don't tag it. For Caritas and other NGOs working there, it (the war) means someone needs help."

Caritas Lebanon is one of the largest NGOs in Lebanon. With a solid history of working in the country for 40 years, it is accepted as part of the social structure.

"We have been working with municipalities, public health so we are part of the community," underlines Rhayem.


When the conflict started, Caritas stepped in with the immediate need – food distribution. Then came hygiene kits, finding shelter for the people, meeting their medical needs.

Today 40,661 Syrian families are registered with Caritas.

Dr. Rita Rhayem

Dr. Rita Rhayem

Sixty-seven per cent live in apartments. That is not as good as it sounds for there are five to six families in each apartment. Fire-prone, crowded – this congestion leads to contagious diseases.

Add the fact that Lebanon is already a country that is struggling economically.

"We do have our own problems. Now we are facing many problems. A huge number of Syrian refugees rely 100 per cent on humanitarian assistance. But also, due to the conflict, 170,000 Lebanese families were pushed into poverty," says the health official. "You can't imagine the situation. We need help."

No funds means the projects would stop. Human nature being what it is, should a disaster happen elsewhere in the world, the funds would go there, worries Rhayem. "The Syrian crisis would not be as much a priority as it is now."


She thanked the Canadian government for funding a health project as well as Caritas' funding of 10 health care centres and 13 mobile medical units.

Last year they provided free medical services to the Lebanese population (people pay for medical care in Lebanon).

Canadian dollars allow Caritas to give needed medical aid – medicine, hygiene kits, psychotherapy – to Syrian refugees. The monies also allowed Caritas to print health care information booklets in Arabic for the Syrian people.

"This project is so important and has had a positive impact," says Rhayem. "We need the funds to continue, not only for the growing number of Syrians, but also the Lebanese people."