Sunday 13 November 2016

Sharing Refugee Stories of Hope #WithOxfam

Taking part in a friendly protest in Bethlehem. I'm in the white coat!
Eight years ago I worked in a Palestinian refugee camp, on the outskirts of Bethlehem. The same town that we see in church depictions and every year in Christmas cards. We all know Bethlehem as the birth place of Jesus. Yet, we never hear about all the refugees that live in the same town, those who escaped persecution and live in limbo in one of the three main camps in the area. I worked in a health clinic in the Dheisheh refugee camp all those years ago, with a total population of 13,000 refugees. It was an eye opener to say the least. I learned so much in that time, not only about the political situation and life under occupation but how people live on a daily basis inside a refugee camp. This particular camp doesn't consist of people living in tents since these refugees have been on the same spot for the last 65+ years, since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. And those born in the camp only know their identity as a refugee. There are very few opportunities with little hope of the situation improving for the future. They are not starving but they have so little and some really struggle to make ends meet. I met a mother who cried when she told me she didn't have enough money to buy her children meat and vegetables. Most of the men in the camp have lost their jobs since the separation wall around Bethlehem has been built meaning they can never cross that line & work for businesses on the other side. Every one knows someone who has been killed either in their own family or those of neighbours, including children sadly.

With my friend Suhaila inside the camp's library. Suhaila was born at Dheisheh and still lives there today. 
People are trapped inside the camp and the town. Most are blacklisted to travel beyond the town and the complicated division of areas in the West Bank makes travel incredibly difficult for Palestinians, especially those that are refugees. The children in the camp have never seen the sea or even visited Jerusalem, despite being just five miles away. People are desperate and it's difficult to see how anyone can have hope in that situation. Yet people do. I was fortunate enough to make real friends when I was there, some I am still in touch with today including my friend, Suhaila (above). People carry on because they have to and behind the sadness the people I met in the camp were so unbelievably friendly and welcoming. Many are so strong-willed and determined their children will have a better life than they did. I worked in the camp for three months and it left a strong place in my heart. I will write a more detailed description in another post but wanted to focus on how people with so little and such a dismal outlook still have hope.

I'm collaborating with Oxfam on this post and want to raise awareness of refugees around the world including the story of Buchumi. He lives in a Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania. Please read his story in the extract below.

There are so many refugees like Buchumi who have escaped the fighting and unrest in Burundi and found refuge is neighbouring Tanzania. However, that has meant a huge influx of refugees into areas that were previously sparsely populated. Refugee camps such as Nyarugusu, that was originally set up for Congolese refugees, have quickly run out of space. New camps have been established for new refugees coming in from Burundi but sanitation improvements and emergency supplies are desperately needed.

Oxfam is currently working in Nyarugusu and Nduta, to bring emergency food, clean water, provide sanitation facilities and support work on the ground. These things are a priority for Oxfam and it also aims to provide a safe environment with an improved camp infrastructure. It's important refugees gain some kind of stability in their lives once in the camps and can create incomes of their own.

Do you want to help? Oxfam relies on donations and last year an amazing 11.6 million people were reached in 51 countries. Regular donations have a big impact but every contribution, big or small, makes a difference! There are a number of ways to help Oxfam including volunteering, campaigning and fundraising and it's easy to donate online.  Let's join Oxfam in the fight against poverty. 

This is a collaborative post with Oxfam

Related posts: What Christmas is really like in Bethlehem

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