I don't know how I'd feel to have my life turned completely upside down. To go from educated, middle class respectability to life as a refugee utterly dependent on the goodwill of others - for shelter, warmth and survival. To lose any sense of what the future holds.
I'm currently in Beirut, Lebanon, meeting families who have experienced exactly that. Amidst a day packed full with the fascination and complex tangle of the Middle East - Lebanese and Syrian, Armenian and Palestinian, Muslim and Christian, Sunni and Shiite, Orthodox and Evangelical - it is our meeting with Talar, a 32 year old mother of two that stays with me most.
Talar is an impressive, thoughtful, intelligent woman. Clearly well educated, a lover of literature and teacher of English. As she speaks of her six year old son Levon and four year old daughter Galin, I could be at the school gate in my Oxford home, at coffee after church or at the supermarket checkout. It is the incongruity of this image with the horror of what she's telling me that leaves me stunned.
"If we tried to go out of our home we had to run. You couldn't walk or you'd be hit by sniper fire. As the bombs exploded near our home, Levon told his little sister 'don't be afraid, our parents will protect us'. I had no choice but to leave. We couldn't protect them anymore." Talar is one of nearly 200,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon since the conflict erupted there, braving a hazardous journey to safety. "Militia stopped the bus every 100 metres or so around Aleppo and Damascus. They were looking for young men to take away. I don't know what happened to them. Since we got to Lebanon, Galin is happy, she was so afraid, she never wants to go back."
Talar shows us round the ramshackle top floor flat she arrived in just two weeks ago with its boarded up windows, broken doors and blocked drains. "I don't know how much our new home costs or how we'll pay. We spent 30 years building up our lives in Aleppo. It's all gone. Now we have to start all over again."
Talar's friends tell similar stories. Two year old Arshy's mother Lusin said "we told her the bombing was fireworks or balloons popping. She couldn't sleep. Even here, she still wakes at 4am, scared and crying 'boom boom'". Racha, mother of five year old Anne-Maria says, "we had no water, no electricity. All the shops were closed. Thieves were everywhere. A fridge that cost $900 was stolen and sold for $30. We went to my brother's home in a safer part of town. I didn't realise we'd never go back home - we just had a few summer clothes and things for the kids. Now we're here and it's winter." Thank God that Talar, Lusin and Racha have been welcomed in by the Armenian community in this bustling, crowded part of Beirut. Thank God too that World Vision are here and have been working with this community for years. Between neighbours, church, community leaders and the help of World Vision they now have a place to stay, beds, clothes and windows being repaired to keep out the cold.
It is children who suffer most in the midst of conflict. Children who should be protected from trauma that can scar them for life. We must do all we can - with parents, communities and governments who should be able to protect their children, but can't or sometimes won't. In Syria and Lebanon, in Gaza and in the Congo - all places of conflict in the prayers and actions of many in World Vision over recent days.
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