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More than 90,000 people have died and millions have been displaced in more than two years of conflict in Syria. To respond to the ongoing crisis, U.S.-based Christian organization Food for the Hungry is helping its local partners to provide food, shelter and household items in the war-torn nation and neighboring Lebanon and Jordan.
Even as it is estimated that about 1.6 million Syrian refugees are in Jordan, Lebanon and other neighboring countries, and about 4.25 million are displaced within Syria, there is now a need to strengthen local organizations that have the greatest ability to make a lasting impact, the Arizona-based FH says in a statement.
"One theme keeps rising to the top through our collaboration with indigenous groups: we cannot just come in, set up shop and eventually leave," says Peter Howard, FH Emergency Response Director. "Rather, we need to strengthen local partners who are trusted, have strong networks and can identify those in greatest need. Long term, these organizations have the greatest ability to make a lasting impact – and FH is there to support them."
Howard, who recently visited the region, calls the Syrian crisis "particularly heartbreaking," explaining that "great need is juxtaposed with nearby resources that are just out of reach for the vulnerable." He cites the example of a refugee child from a formerly middle class Syrian family he met. Howard saw him eating moldy horse feed. "The local McDonald's is only 20 minutes away. This family, like thousands of others, not only lost their home but also their means of income. The crisis is overwhelming host communities."
FH estimates that at least 6.8 million people are currently in need for food, shelter and household items among other things.
United Nations food distributions have limitations, Howard says, explaining that many of the displaced are afraid and will not register their names on lists. "People fear reprisals for them or their families in Syria if their names are recorded," he says. "They don't know who to trust. Therefore, trusted, local organizations are uniquely poised to fill this food distribution gap."
In collaboration with the Integral Alliance, a global alliance of 18 Christian relief and development agencies, working together to present a more effective response to poverty worldwide, FH's local partners include the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), the Arab Women Today ministries and the Manara International ministry.
The LSESD is the legal parent for educational institutions, including the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, the Beirut Baptist School, Dar Manhal Al Hayat Publishing house, SKILD Center for Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences.
The FH is partnering to provide food and household items to displaced people and refugees, and is also supporting shelter and protection activities for women and children.
It is estimated that about 10 percent of Syria's 23 million people are Christian, another 10 percent are from the Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot. Another 10 percent, or more, are non-Arab ethnic Kurds, who are mostly Sunni Muslim but have their own language and culture, and are seen as secular and western-oriented. The rest, about 70 percent, are largely Sunni Muslims.
While President Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite and supported by Iran as well as Lebanon's Hezbollah among other Shi'a groups, the opposition movement is aided by Saudi Arabia and dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Arab nationalists. Some of the groups fighting government forces are affiliated with al Qaeda, or receive support from it.