Yuki Tanaka

My time in Arsal

Yuki Tanaka in Arsal
Yuki Tanaka in Arsal
Yuki Tanaka in Arsal
Yuki Tanaka in Arsal

I was recently traveling around the world to research poverty issues affecting people from different backgrounds in different countries. I had volunteered with local organizations and reported on the causes of poverty and the activities of the organizations I worked with by using social media. My mission is to establish a connection between local institutions and the Japanese people, and to persuade the Japanese market to take action. So far, I have visited a camp in Haiti; a slum in Colombia; Favera in Brazil; the township of Soweto in South Africa; an orphanage in Zimbabwe; the Kibera slum in Kenya; and Ethiopia. While working as a volunteer, I also attempted to start fundraising campaigns for the aforementioned places.


But the worst crisis I have seen is that of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.


I came to Lebanon in February 2014 to learn more about this crisis, which is one of the worst refugee crises in recent history. I believe that only small local organizations can be the most effective because they are flexible and speedy.


So, I looked for a local organization that would deal with the most important challenges for refugees, such as housing, food, and clothing. I found the Lebanese for Syrian Refugees organization and contacted them via their Facebook page. The organization’s director, Carol Malouf, and its members received me with open arms.


The first weekend after I arrived in Lebanon, I visited Arsal with Shabab Lil Umma staff members, Izzat and Mustafa. I visited a warehouse, a clinic, a camp under construction, the tents and homes of Syrian refugees.


As I had heard, the situation was very serious. The refugees are living in tents despite the harsh, cold weather in Arsal, and there is almost nothing there except for quarrying industries.


It was my first time volunteering in a predominately Muslim community, and they were very friendly. I stayed there for 2 weeks to build tents and distribute essential goods. I slept in a clinic, and washed my body with water boiled in a kettle. It wasn't very comfortable, but I couldn't complain, seeing how the refugees had to live this way.


At the site, I was mostly confused because I didn’t speak or understand the language, and none of the men spoke or understood English. However, some of the female volunteers from Syria could communicate in English, and I was able to talk to and learn Arabic from them.


About 200 patients would visit the clinic every day. The doctors—themselves refugees from Syria— are unpaid and lack the much of the necessary equipment to diagnose and treat patients.


Mustafa, one of the doctors working at the clinic, has lost some fingers from his right hand. His goal is to heal as many Syrian refugees in Arsal as possible.


Once, a doctor from the clinic went to Yabroud by motorcycle after he learned of the passing of his uncle. He was back at the clinic by nightfall, inputting patients’ data until midnight. I was impressed with their strong sense of mission and commitment. The doctors have never asked for a salary, but they often appeal for medicine for their patients.


I sometimes enjoyed dinner as a guest at the house of a Syrian family. They are renting a small house, with cold air seeping in through the cracks, constant power outages, and paying $200, which is relatively expensive, especially for a Syrian refugee family. Apparently, they had a big house in Syria; they told me how uncomfortable life is now and that their house in Syria was now in rubbles.


Even though I have experienced the different types of poverty in several countries, so far, the Syrian refugee crisis is the most serious and touching, because their sadness was caused by the drastic changes that they had to endure in their lives due to the Syrian civil war.


The Syrian refugees have lost their homes, lands, family members, friends, jobs, the opportunity to continue their education, and lastly, their trust in their government and the international community. "We are hoping for a miracle," an undergraduate student from Damascus told me.


After volunteering in Arsal for 2 weeks, working and getting to know the refugees, I strongly believe that it meant a great deal to the refugees, because it showed them that the international community does care. And I want the Syrian refugees to know that the world is worrying about them and hoping to help them in some way.


I also believe that the situation in Arsal will become worse, especially if their stay in refugee camps is long-term, which could trigger some serious problems, such as: disease spreading due to the unsanitary condition of the camps; trouble between the inhabitants due to frustration and lack of supplies; refugee children not receiving proper schooling; and the depletion of what money the refugees brought with them.


It is imperative that the international community recognize and taken action to resolve the Syrian refugee crisis in Arsal, because as the situation in Syria worsens, the influx of refugees into Arsal increases.


I will spread the word of what I saw and of my experience volunteering with the Lebanese for Syrian Refugees organization to the Japanese people, and I will continue to support the cause as much as ever. Lastly, I pray for all the refugees in Arsal to be back to their previous life as soon as possible.


Yuki Tanaka in Arsal

But the worst crisis I have seen is that of Syrian refugees in Lebanon."