Raja’s smile was infectious as soon as we entered the room. Her daughter Raha sat on her lap and they were both eager to talk. They live in Bourj Hammoud, a densely populated neighborhood in Beirut, Lebanon, and take part in programs at the Jesuit Refugee Service Social Center.
Lebanon is host to more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, the largest number of refugees relative to its national population. The stresses on a refugee’s daily life in a place like Bourj Hammoud are almost unimaginable. Many refugees have suffered from trauma or loss of a family member due to the civil war in Syria. Now struggling to re-build their lives, many Syrian refugees share sub-standard housing with multiple families, scrape by through odd jobs and try to maintain a sense of normalcy for themselves and their children.
Opened in 2014, the JRS Social Center in Bourj Hammoud serves 700 individuals every year by providing support groups, basic literacy courses and vocational training in areas including hairdressing and sewing. Recently, JRS has also begun programs serving men who attend group sessions or training courses in the evening, after returning from work. The Social Center also organizes trips for the families they serve, taking them out of their urban environment to explore local parks and nature.
During a recent trip to Lebanon, I was able to visit the JRS Social Center in Bourj Hammoud and meet some of the women who have benefited from these programs. Raja was eager to share her story and talk about the impact JRS has had on her life. She, along with her fellow group members, demonstrated incredible resiliency after all they’ve endured.
Raja heard about the JRS Social Center when looking for school support for her children. Many of the women, and men, who take part in these programs have children enrolled in JRS’s education programs in Bourj Hammoud. JRS provides Kindergarten classes for 280 children and learning support programs for 140 children, every year. Learning support is offered for students enrolled in the Lebanese public school system, but who need additional tutoring, language training, or homework support.
Raja’s entire family is enrolled in a JRS program. At the Social Center, Raja takes both basic literacy and life skills courses. She said, “When I have a challenge at home, I feel comfortable coming to JRS and talking about my problems.” Through the life skills courses, Raja has learned how to crochet and has started to earn a bit of income to help support her family. She said, “I feel supported and love the JRS staff.”
This holiday season, as we think about the Holy Family traveling in search of safety and security, let’s remember Raja and Raha. Like the Holy Family, millions of families are fleeing their countries of origin all around the world today. We must stand in solidarity with them and do our part to ensure they are not forgotten.