Goshen News, Goshen, IN

August 29, 2013

Goshen-based group looks to help refugees displaced from Syria

By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS

— GOSHEN — Despite the great distance between them, the Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes Regional Office in Goshen is currently doing everything it can to ensure that the refugees of the ongoing crisis in Syria are getting the assistance they desperately need. And it hasn’t been easy.

Over the past two years, the MCC Great Lakes Regional Office has doubled its efforts toward supplying aid to the conflict-ravaged country, calling on friends, co-workers and congregations to provide any and all support they can to the effort.

According to Jennifer Steiner, communications coordinator for MCC Great Lakes, the organization has a long history of working in Syria, with the first response recorded in the late 1980’s, followed by the first MCC worker traveling to the region in 1991.

“So having partnerships there prior to this current crisis has really enabled us to work with the longer term development pieces,” Steiner said.

With the onset of the current crisis in Syria, the need has never been greater. MCC Great Lakes has responded to that increased call for aid in numerous ways, perhaps the most visible of which can be seen in the thousands of refugee relief kits that have been gathered and shipped to the region by MCC staff over the past few months.

“We have been shipping what we call relief kits that have hygiene supplies, towels, soaps, shampoos, etc., and those have primarily gone to the refugee camps in Lebanon,” said Nadine Zook Miller, material resource coordinator for MCC Great Lakes. “We’ve been shipping to refugee camps in Jordan for many years, but particularly in the response to the Syrian conflict we started shipping things to Lebanon back in April 2012. And then we’ve actually been shipping directly to Syria since February of this year. Some of that gets in, and some doesn’t, but we’ve been able to get in quite a bit.”

In addition to the hygiene supplies, the organization also ships comforters, blankets, foodstuffs, school supplies and infant care kits, and has even been able support several displaced families in Syria with medical care and rental assistance.

According to the most current tallies, the aid organization has currently shipped over 69,000 blankets and comforters, 45,000 hygiene kits, 77,000 school kits, 11,000 relief kits and 12,000 infant care kits to refugee sites in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan to aid in the Syria crisis.

And if recent reports coming out of the war-ravaged country are any indication, that need is not about to end anytime soon — a fact heightened by the recent reports of chemical weapons being used on Syrian citizens.

Well aware of what’s at stake with the current conflict, MCC issued a statement Wednesday condemning the escalating violence in Syria and calling on all governments and nations to assist in bringing the conflict to an end.

The statement reads as follows:

“Mennonite Central Committee urgently calls on all governments and parties to the conflict to end the violence in Syria. We condemn in the strongest terms all forms of violence and war, including missile strikes, use of chemical weapons, targeted acts of violence against civilians, conventional warfare and suicide bombings.

“Further militarization of the conflict will only increase the suffering of the Syrian people and the shattering of Syrian society.

“We call on all nations to immediately end shipments of military equipment and arms to the Syrian government and to rebel groups, and to increase contributions of food and other humanitarian assistance to civilians in all areas of Syria and to Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries, and their host communities.

“We call on the international community, and Syrians from all sides, to negotiate with urgency and seriousness an inclusive political solution to the crisis, guaranteeing the rights of all Syrians.

“In the name of Christ, we pray and work for peace in Syria.”

For more information on the MCC’s efforts connected to the Syria conflict, contact the MCC Great Lakes Regional Office at 574-534-4133, or visit MCC’s Middle East Crisis Response web page at www.mcc.org/middleeastcrisis.