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Thousands donate clothes, blankets for refugees
More than 4500 people gathered at BIEL Saturday to donate blankets and clothes for Syrian refugees in Beirut, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. (Photo courtesy of Susan Wilson)
More than 4500 people gathered at BIEL Saturday to donate blankets and clothes for Syrian refugees in Beirut, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013. (Photo courtesy of Susan Wilson)
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BEIRUT: More than 4,500 people donated bags full of clothing and blankets to a collection at BIEL Saturday in a gesture of support for Syrian refugees in tent settlements in Akkar and the Bekaa Valley who have faced sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall over the past week. The initiative was organized by Tanya Khalil, an individual who, in a bid to help, collaborated with NGOs War Child Lebanon, who are handling distribution of the donated items in Akkar, and Sawa for Syria, who are working in the Bekaa Valley.

“It was about doing something about the cold winter that’s arriving,” Khalil told The Daily Star Sunday. “People are dying because of the temperatures and I don’t think it’s acceptable in the 21st century to die because you don’t have a blanket. It just doesn’t make sense.

Khalil publicized the collection on Facebook, naming the event “I am not a tourist” in a bid to highlight the collective responsibility of locals to help deal with the ongoing refugee crisis.

“Personally I’m fond of traveling,” she said, “and I always make sure that I am not holding my camera and map and looking like a tourist. At some point I felt like that’s exactly what I was doing in my own country regarding this crisis.

“I was sitting there not doing anything about it, watching it unfold right in front of my eyes ... so I just wanted to remind people that I am not a tourist and you are not tourists in your own country, and you’d better do something about this crisis, because nobody else will.”

Khalil said the 4,500 people who came to donate each gave an average of three bags full of warm clothes and blankets, adding that many donated brand new items they had purchased especially for the collection.

With more than 10,000 bags of donations to sort through, Khalil said that filtering the clothes by size and gender ready for distribution would take time. In the meantime, the distribution of blankets began Sunday in the Bekaa Valley, where Sawa for Syria began visiting individual tents and giving five blankets to each family.

Thanks to the success of the initiative, Khalil said she intended to arrange further collections in the future. “This was a very unexpected success,” she added. “I definitely have another event coming up. It might not be related to blankets and clothes; it could be nutrition, medicine, water – whatever they need most.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 16, 2013, on page 4.
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