Support for Syrian Refugees

Arsal is a town on the Syrian border, high above the Bekaa valley, on which EDA has focussed its main humanitarian effort over the past three years.

This month(November 2017) EDA's 14th 40-foot, 10 ton, shipping container will be sent on its way to Arsal full of clothes, boots and shoes for the coming winter; also toiletries, school things, knitted teddies, baby things. And a number of carefully checked sewing machines, fabrics, haberdashery and knitting wools for the women's self-help groups among the refugees, and for EDA's vocational training courses.
A civilised way of giving aid
The month also saw the opening of EDA's new distribution centre in Arsal. it 's essentially a "free shop" modelled on those seen by EDA in Munich and Beirut, but a first in the hinterland of Lebanon. EDA 's local staff working hours well beyond any that their nominal salaries could possibly pay for, augmented by volunteers, have in a few short weeks turned an empty rented space into a secure store and welcoming "shop". They have sorted, categorised, ticketed, shelved, hung and displayed a stream of incoming goods from containers loaded to bursting point by volunteers in Edinburgh. Refugees will visit by invitation only, each family being given an allowance of virtual money to "buy" the goods on display. In this way, giving and accepting aid becomes a part of civilised life, rather than a humiliating dispensation and acceptance of charity.

The "shop" is now open: the first customers invited were the hard-working unpaid volunteer teachers from refugee-run schools, and special needs children from the Balsam Centre.
ARSAL Back Story
Arsal used to be a village of 35,000 poor Lebanese inhabitants . Since 2013 some 100,000 Syrian refugees have poured over the indistinct border. Some managed to escape further into Lebanon, some have returned to Syria, but some 60,000 are still crowded into tents and makeshift dwellings. At 1500 metres in the mountains above the Bekaa valley, Arsal is always cold in winter EDA has been working in Arsalsince December 2013. During this period there have been some extremely hard winters, floods, bomb outrages and incursions by ISIS and Al Nusra. The worst was in August 2014 when ISIS blew up the police station and took prisoner a number of Lebanese army soldiers were killed, some taken prisoner (and later executed). A shootout ensued. Many tents caught fire, and there were many resulting injuries and deaths. Fortuitously arrived from Edinburgh at just this time, EDA's Maggie Tookey managed to deliver 8 tons of desperately needed food, and for a time was the only NGO operating in Arsal.

In November that year more Lebanese soldiers were killed, captured and again more executions. The local Lebanese were extremely angry, as well they might be, making access to the refugees difficult and sometimes dangerous. All the same, with the help of Dar Al Fatwa Relief, EDA volunteers Denis Rutovitz and Maggie Tookey were able to buy 500 warm winter jackets and winter boots in Lebanon at good rates and having obtained a go-ahead from the army at an opportune moment between road closures they were able to deliver these in person, and oversee the setting up and start of the distribution.

Meanwhile, in order to provide immediate help in the worst of the winter, we arranged for the distribution of 20 litres of fuel oil to each of 150 families. For some this meant the difference between hypothermia and survival; for all it provided an at least temporary respite from the cold.

Maggie visited Arsal again on Feb 17th 2015 to assess the position. She returned two days later with 3 truck-loads of aid from the container, overcoming obstruction by weather and checkpoints alike with her usual steely determination and apparent composure. She spent the following 10 days in Arsal in freezing temperatures and ever-present danger, overseeing the distribution of the aid.In response to local requests, she added to the aid sent from Edinburgh local purchases of items ranging from fuel oil for two hospitals to underwear for hundreds of women. Maggie kept a day-by-day diary of her work and events there. It's a fine story, but a long one. To read it - and its well worth while - please click on this link (or copy it into your browser's address line) .

Winter 2015/16:
The winter was late in coming but in January it arrived with a vengeance, blanketing the Bekaa in snow even at low levels in the valley, let alone in the hills. But EDA once again against all the odds managed to get the aid delivered, and supplied heating oil to a number of schools and to each of 150 families who for one reason or another were not receiving the UNHCR fuel allowance.

more stuff here

Why EDA? The question is often asked: What difference can a small agency like EDA make in the world of misery that is Syria and its refugees?
The answer is not much overall. But in Arsal quite a lot.

Community Support Whenever we have asked for donations in kind for refugees, the response from Edinburgh and many places further afield has been extraordinary. This Autumn in particular we have been almost overwhelrmed by donations of warm clothes, winter shoes and boots, toiletries, whatever we have asked for. Many also volunteered to help pack and sort everything - hard, long and cold work in our unheated and difficult warehouse.
If EDA has been able to make a small contribution to the big picture its because of this wonderful community effort and the support of many generous donors, whose cash contributions have made it possible to actually deliver the donated goods, to buy in more, and to pay for school extensions, fuel oil supplies and training courses.
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