SIDON, Lebanon: Surrounded by plastic bags, Ruwaida Shami is busy sorting through piles of clothes and blankets before they are sent to the people she calls “our guests,” Syrian refugees taking shelter in the country.
She is working alongside several other volunteers from the student office of the Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, which last month launched a relief campaign to help Syrian refugees.
They spread the word via social media sites such as Facebook. The campaign’s coordinator for Sidon and south Lebanon, Mohammad Hosni, says the students also put up posters on Sidon’s streets asking for donations.
He says the campaign has three centers in addition to Sidon: Beirut, the Bekaa, and north Lebanon. More than 30 Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya offices are being used as collection points.
Over 5,000 Syrian refugees are registered in the country, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the Lebanese High Relief Committee in north Lebanon. The U.N. estimates that over 5,000 people have been killed since a crackdown on anti-regime protesters began last March.
Most refugees in Lebanon are being housed in private homes and schools across north Lebanon, where shortages of blankets, medicine and other necessary items have been reported.
“We collected money in shops and mosques,” said Hosni. “We now have hundreds of boxes of clothes, shoes, blankets, mattresses, pillows and toys in our warehouses.”
He says 80 percent of the donations are new, but the rest are second hand – they’ve come from homes, shops and some civil society organizations.
Hosni adds that some women have donated their jewelry in aid of the refugees. “We are going to buy medication to distribute Sunday to refugee centers in the Bekaa, Arsal and the north.”
Inside the Sidon warehouse, a number of volunteers are organizing donations alongside Shami.
“We are working five hours a day after finishing our studies,” says Mustaspha Jardali, who explains that clothes and other supplies are sorted in bags that go to families, based on a list of refugees they have.
Jardali says “the good thing is several shops have donated toys and we will give them to the refugee children so maybe they can find some joy.”
Standing at the corner of Sidon’s Martyrs’ Square, Salim Dimasi is collecting money for the effort. “We carried these boxes before – to gather donations for Palestinian brothers after the Israeli aggression against Gaza [in 2009] – and now we are carrying them again ... for the Syrian refugees in Lebanon.” Dimasi adds there is great empathy in Sidon for the refugees.
Handing Dimasi her contribution, Tharwat Habli says “I don’t see donations as taking a stance with or against the regime. There is a tragedy taking place. There are displaced people, and it is winter. We need to give them anything, because humanity should prevail over politics.”