Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is just over an hour’s drive east of Beirut towards the Syrian border. Our first stop was the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre at Taalabaya where newcomers are registered and aid is distributed, including medicines.
There are currently 13 mobile clinics which travel to camps all over the country. One of the clinics has set up shop outside the Caritas centre in Taalabaya. Here, the doctor, Joseph Homsi, says he will see between 50 and 100 people a day. Joseph is from Zahleh, the main city of the Bekaa region, and he epitomises the selfless dedication of the Caritas Lebanon staff.
“I’m a humanitarian. I want to provide emergency care for Syrian refugees. I’m doing the thing I love,” he said. This was despite the fact that many people come and shout at them when they aren’t able to help them more. This, Joseph said, was sometimes difficult to take as they are doing everything they can but there simply aren’t enough doctors or medicines for the people who need help.
While I was with him, a young boy came in who had been involved in a car accident four days ago and his face was badly cut but he hadn’t had stitches because his family don’t have any money. Dr Homsi put a clean dressing on, gave his mother some anti-inflamatory medicine and antibiotics to tackle any infection. Caritas also arranged for the boy to go to a nearby hospital for surgery to re-open the cut and stitch it properly – Caritas will pay the US$100 charge for them.
Outside there were a number of queues. One was for registering people when they first arrive – this is to log their basic details and identify their situation and their needs. Each family is assessed and decisions made on what type of aid they should receive. Everyone will at least receive food and hygiene kits but the most vulnerable will receive additional help such as clothes, blankets, mattresses, plastic sheeting if they’re creating a shelter, fuel, stoves as well as basic medical care.
Another queue, of about 30 to 40 women and children, waited to pick up medicine from a nurse in the mobile clinic itself – essentially a small van full of drugs. After the consultation with the doctor, who prescribes the medicine, a list is then given to Aline Ephrema, the Caritas nurse in charge. Proscriptions being given out include medicine for babies and a wide range of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, diarrhoea and hypertension.
Aline, another incredibly positive person operating in what is an extremely tough situation, highlighted again that the situation is getting worse as more and more refugees flood into the county.
“This time last year I would see around 30 people per day here – now it is up to 70 or so,” she told me. I asked her why she worked for Caritas and how she dealt with the hardship she faces each day. She simply told me, “I love to help others. I feel very bad for the refugees because they have had to flee their homes – I would certainly not like to leave my home.”
Speaking with the Caritas staff and seeing their undimmed positivity was like ray of sunshine in what is otherwise a very dark storm.