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Syrian refugees receiving care from Baptists

SYRIA (BP) – Rima* was finally shopping again. Her family needed food and supplies, and the young girl was “running and grabbing, just like a little kid” in the supermarket, remembered Abraham Shepherd.

Shepherd, area director for Baptist Global Response, told the Syrian refugee’s story in a meeting room, thousands of miles from the store where he bought Rima’s family food.

The family felt joy at the opportunity to shop for themselves, instead of simply taking distributions, Shepherd said. The parents could choose their supplies, enjoying the independence they used to have in their own country. Violence ruined that life for them and for millions of others. The war inside Syria has raged for five years now, and more than a year ago, the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) began contributing to the refugee crisis significantly during its quest for a caliphate.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, roughly 4 million Syrian people have fled the country to seek safety in other countries and more than 7.5 million have been internally displaced.

Eventually, Rima’s family became part of the statistics and fled to Greece as refugees. The adjustment was difficult.

“It’s very hard when you live all your life self-sustained and have your own dignity, your own shelter, your own clothing [and then you have] to be now a person who has a need … forced to beg and ask strangers to help them out,” Shepherd said.

When Shepherd took the family to the supermarket that day, Rima spotted a cheap bottle of nail polish. Her mother told her the family should focus on practical items, but Rima desperately wanted pretty nails. Shepherd decided to buy her the bottle.

“This is the medicine,” he said. “The medicine to the soul — the emotional and psychological well-being.”

These refugees, he said, need food and clothing, but they also need emotional care. They’ve been uprooted from their lives — sometimes violently — and they need to process trauma. They need to tell their stories. Sometimes, they need small, frivolous items to help them feel human again.

Through the years, Baptist Global Response has conducted Syrian refugee relief projects that meet physical needs as well as those emotional needs.

BGR executive director Jeff Palmer noted Southern Baptists have poured nearly $3 million dollars through BGR into relief efforts for Syrian refugees. These resources have helped fund projects in several countries and have been used for things like distributions of food, blankets, clothing and more. Shepherd said he also used BGR funds to buy Rima’s family items from the supermarket.

Francis Horton, another BGR area director, said projects in Istanbul, Turkey, indirectly help refugees pay their rent. BGR funds purchase gift cards to grocery stores so displaced people can buy food and hygiene items, which frees up their savings to pay for whatever meager lodgings they can find.

BGR also helps create makeshift classrooms for refugee children.

“These are children who have been out of school for, you know, four — four and a half [to] five — years, even before they came out of Syria,” he said. “For many of them, the school was bombed or there was so much fighting, they couldn’t go to school. … We are involved in two projects in Turkey that help to fill that gap and get the children back into an educational environment through classes in English, math, science and other subjects.”

While these efforts satisfy hunger, keep refugees warm and boost lagging education, others meet psychosocial needs. For example, Shepherd said he uses volunteers to entertain Syrian children in Greece while their families wait for permission to move to another country.

BGR invites donors to partner with the organization as it carries out these projects and cares for Syrians who have lost their homes. People can give toward Syrian aid through www.gobgr.org or purchase items like food or blankets through the 2015 Christmas Gift Catalog. They can also work directly with refugees through BGR’s volunteer opportunities, which are posted on its website. BGR also encourages people to pray for these displaced people and for the organization’s efforts to clothe and feed them.

The only way BGR can aid families like Rima’s is through partnership with its donors.

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  • Lily Jameson