We need you to help The Forgotten Millions. The Herald and World Vision are running a major campaign to raise funds and help the millions of children left homeless by war in Syria. With your help we can make a difference to the children and their families in desperate need throughout this region.

"Don't talk politics with me, Rachel. You know this. I am a humanitarian." I smile and roll my eyes.

Patricia Mouamar is always telling me off. It's been this way for almost two years. I ask a political question. She gently bats it away. And so it goes on.

"Forget the politics, Rachel. Look at the people. This is not about politics or race or religion. It is about humanity."

Patricia is a World Vision aid-worker based in Lebanon's Beirut office. I first met her in 2013 when I travelled to the Syrian refugee camps that line the Lebanese border.

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That was 18 months ago, and last month I returned to Lebanon as the Syrian crisis lurched into its fifth year.

"People always want to hear about the war. I tell them it's not about the war any more. It is about the millions of people who are suffering."

Patricia is 35, Lebanese and has seen enough war and conflict to last a lifetime. She was a child in Beirut in the 80s and lived through Lebanon's brutal and protracted civil war.

"One thing is for sure. You never forget the sound of war." Her family moved to a shelter beneath their four-storey home and Patricia remembers her mother playing games to distract her from the fighting outside.

Patricia Mouamar speaks to a Syrian refugee at the Beeka Valley settlement in Lebanon. Photo / Jo Currie / World Vision
Patricia Mouamar speaks to a Syrian refugee at the Beeka Valley settlement in Lebanon. Photo / Jo Currie / World Vision

"She would hear the boom of tank fire ... and then she would make me dance and sing for a few seconds until the cannon hit its target. And when we heard the explosion we would clap and cheer because it meant we were okay. It hadn't hit our house."

Her father, she says, had an "incredible faith" and when the shelling and bombing intensified, he would gather the family together in a corner of the shelter and ask everyone to kneel.

"He would say 'pray, Patricia, pray' and I would do as he said, but all I wanted to do was scream and hide."

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She says those childhood memories, although traumatic, have helped her to understand the psychological impact of conflict on some of Syria's refugee children.

"I tell them that I have heard what they have heard. I know what it is to hear the sound of war. To feel that fear. I tell them I understand what they have gone through, and I mean it."

It is late afternoon and I am driving through the Bekaa Valley with Patricia, meeting a tiny percentage of the 1.15 million refugees who now live here.

Just ahead of us is the Syrian border post. The blockade is heavily guarded by armed Lebanese soldiers and I can see the road to Damascus stretching out beyond them.

The New Zealand Herald and World Vision have launched The Forgotten Millions campaign to raise funds to meet an immense and urgent humanitarian need. With your help we can make a difference for the children and their families in desperate need throughout this region

I joke with Patricia. "It's 20 minutes to Damascus, come on, let's go." Patricia laughs. "I'm not taking you, Rachel. Not today. One day, but not today. We would never make it."

It's only later that a colleague tells me Patricia travelled to Damascus one night in 2011, just a few months after the conflict began.

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I am intrigued. I ask her why she went. She is coy in her response.

"I went to dance," she said.

"You went to what?" I reply.

"I went to dance the tango."

She tells me her humanitarian work is both "a privilege and a curse" and it sometimes leaves her overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness.

Patricia Mouamar stands in the midst of an informal tent settlement in Bekaa Valley. Photo / Jo Currie / World Vision
Patricia Mouamar stands in the midst of an informal tent settlement in Bekaa Valley. Photo / Jo Currie / World Vision

"Dance has become my release. The tango connects me and it is good for me emotionally and physically. I do two things in life. I work and I dance." She says she was told a brilliant Syrian dancer would be in Damascus for one night, "so I booked a night taxi in Beirut and he drove me to Syria".

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"The conflict hadn't reached Damascus at that stage." She remembers the magical ballroom.

"I danced all night and into the early hours of the next day, and then the taxi driver drove me back across the border to Beirut. Really, it was no big deal."

I ask her whether her mother thought it was "no big deal".

"Oh, she was crazy with worry. She was calling me every 15 minutes but she knows me. She knows I love to dance."

This month marks the 10th anniversary of Patricia's time with World Vision. She says the past four years "have marked my life" working with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have poured across Lebanon's border.

'The scope of their emotional scars ... I will never forget these people."

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I know it drains her. I can see it in her face. The days are long. The stories she hears are traumatic. I ask her how much longer she can keep doing this.

She tells me off. Again.

"You're asking me the wrong question, Rachel. This is the question you should be asking me: why isn't everyone doing what I am doing?"

World Vision aid-worker Patricia Mouamar, works closely with Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Photo / Jo Currie / World Vision
World Vision aid-worker Patricia Mouamar, works closely with Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Photo / Jo Currie / World Vision

I want to tell her that only a few people in this world can be tango-dancing humanitarians, but I think better of it.

I ask her if she can see a resolution on the horizon? Does she think the conflict will end soon?

"Peace?" she asks. "Our neighbours don't make peace easily and there are always implications for Lebanon, but peace? Sure. One day. We will get there. You have to believe."

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Donations go to traumatised children

World Vision is one of the largest humanitarian organisations in the world. In 2014 alone, it responded to 132 emergencies across 72 countries, reaching nearly 11 million people.

World Vision's team of experts has so far reached over 1.8 million desperate and vulnerable people in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, providing them with food, shelter, improved water and sanitation systems, health and nutrition services, and a safer environment for their children.

Patricia Mouamar says the past four years
Patricia Mouamar says the past four years "have marked my life" working with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who have poured across Lebanon's border. Photo / Jo Currie / World Vision

Children affected by the crisis are extremely vulnerable and have witnessed unimaginable horrors. World Vision is dedicated to ensuring these children have what they need - physically and psychologically. Child-focused interventions, such as providing remedial education, psychosocial support and creating spaces where children can plan and learn safely, are essential to World Vision's response, particularly as children make up over half of those in need.

As the crisis continues, World Vision is scaling up its work. Here is a snapshot of the work World Vision is doing and how your money will help:

Lebanon: World Vision is supplying food, water, emergency shelter, baby kits, hygiene kits and blankets. Toilets and water tanks have been established in areas of need, and importantly, remedial classes to children not in school, as well as psychosocial support through Child Friendly Spaces.

Jordan: World Vision is working in Azraq and Za'atari refugee camps to provide clean water, healthcare and toilets, and distribute nappies and hygiene kits. Child friendly spaces are giving children schooling and support to deal with their trauma. In local schools World Vision works on improving water and sanitation to help with the influx of extra students.

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Syria: In regions it can access, World Vision has set up health clinics and is arranging a reliable supply chain of medicines. It now has large-scale nutrition programmes, has set up kitchens and provided emergency water shipments and sanitation to local camps.

Iraqi Kurdistan: World Vision is providing basic emergency needs such as food, water, shelter and hygiene kits to internally displaced people who have very recently fled Iraq. As the situation becomes more permanent, World Vision is setting up education and health programmes, and child friendly spaces.

How can I make a donation?

You can make online donations, phone donations and offline donations.

MAKE AN ONLINE DONATION HERE

Phone donations can be made on 0800 90 5000.

Offline donations can be made by printing off the form below and filling it out (app users tap here). Or look in the print edition of the Herald.

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