Turkey-Syria earthquake: Lebanese citizens begin individual initiatives to collect donations to Syria
On February 6, an earthquake with a 7.8 magnitude devastated southern Turkiye and portions of northern Syria. While dozens of nations have offered Turkiye support and assistance, they have done so less enthusiastically for Syria.
In recent days, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, the UAE, and Lebanon were among the MENA countries to send aid.
Although Lebanon had already sent 20 members of its Civil Defense to provide aid to the Syrian people, Lebanese citizens took charge of their own initiatives to maximise the amount of aid provided.
Fatena Al Ali, an insurance employee from the southern city of Tyre told The New Arab that the initiative was first limited to family members before going viral.
"Our home is now so full of donated clothing and blankets that we had to find a larger space to accommodate the aid," she said.
Fatena says that four containers have already been sent to Aleppo and that more will likely be sent in the coming days. She adds that they are working with the Lebanese relief groups already operating in Syria and will be sending their own volunteers to assist. A shipping company has offered to deliver the aid using its container buses at no cost.
"Even Syrian and Palestinian refugees are contributing," she said. "It's really heartwarming to see that Lebanon's financial woes did not hamper the people's compassion and willingness to help."
As part of their campaign to help, Hagazian University students have set up their donation base on campus and invited visitors to drop off donations there.
"Our initiative began when we realised that passively watching the news was not going to make a difference," Rawan Saeid, a 20-year-old psychology student at the university told The New Arab.
"There is a tight-knit community among students who rallied their families for help, and as soon as the news was shared on social media, donations poured in," she said. According to Rawan, most of the items were used clothes, and blankets and some were newly-bought groceries.
Given that the Lebanese have been dealing with their own financial crisis, which has significantly decreased their purchasing power, Rawan says she was astounded by the amount of aid received.
The Lebanese pound has lost more than 97 percent of its value against the US dollar since the country went into a financial meltdown in 2019. As many as 70 percent of households borrow money to buy food or buy it on credit, according to a 2022 UNICEF survey. UN estimates show that approximately 3.28 million people have fallen into poverty since 2019.
Rawan expects to send the first batch through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) this weekend, and she anticipates receiving additional donations over the next week as well, and explains that "even schools contacted us about their students wanting to contribute."
As for Rewa Fayed, a 25-year-old Lebanese-Syrian artist, aid organisations sent from Lebanon lacked trustworthiness. Rather, she decided to start her own initiative to deliver aid directly to Syria.
"I'm thinking about renting a van and driving straight to Syria with a driver," she told The New Arab.
Rewa faces a number of challenges, including blocked roads as a consequence of weather conditions and uncertain obstacles at Syrian checkpoints. Additionally, drivers are requesting up to $150 per trip.
She claims to have heard tales of Lebanese citizens being turned away from Syrian cities at checkpoints by Syrian regime officers, along with their aid. She says one needs "connections" to get through these checkpoints.
Therefore, she chose to collaborate with the Bedayat Foundation, an NGO that supports low-income and displaced Syrian families. "The best way to avoid obstacles at checkpoints is to work with an organisation with official recognition," she stated.
Upon arrival, the foundation will help distribute the aid to families in need.
Rewa, however, is uncertain as to whether she will be able to reach rebel-held areas due to regime encirclement. "I'll have to figure this out once I'm there," she said.
Rewa has so far gathered 500 boxes of pads, as well as clothes and blankets from all over Lebanon, including the northern city of Tripoli and the southern city of Sidon. Additionally, she says a shipping company gave away large quantities of pyjamas and sportswear, as well as their warehouse and employees, free of charge.
"I'm hoping to collect more baby formula, canned food, and warm clothing in the coming days," she said.
Yakzan Shishkaly, the co-founder of the Syrian-American nonprofit Maram Foundation, says that any organisation distributing aid in regime-controlled areas like Aleppo and Lattakia must have close ties to the Syrian government.
"I'm assuming any foreign groups will have to cooperate with pre-existing organisations on the ground," he told The New Arab.
The enormity of the disaster, however, does not warrant denying any form of assistance at this point, he adds. "Based on our previous experience, regime-linked organisations are not to be trusted, but we must use all means at our disposal to help the people," he said.
The co-founder notes that regime checkpoints may bar the Lebanese's access to rebel-held areas, which might limit their scope of aid. Alternatively, they would need to go through the Turkish border.
Although he stresses the necessity of containers carrying food, blankets, clothes, and medical aid, Yakzan also emphasises the need for specialised medical professionals.
"If you're coming from Lebanon, don't bring 20 volunteers with you that may take up shelter intended for distressed locals," Yakzan said. "We need emergency doctors, surgeons, and rescue equipment to help save lives."
Dana Hourany is a multimedia journalist based in Beirut.
Follow her on Twitter: @DanaHourany