Sunday, December 22, 2013

Another busy week

It's been a long, busy week in Tacloban. I spent a day in the field with one of our distribution teams, who started distributing tarpaulins, ropes, nails and hammers to families to provide them with a bit of temporary shelter. I was so incredibly impressed by the team. Most of them are university students, who were affected by the typhoon themselves but have been volunteering with us over their holidays. They are so enthusiastic and happy to be part of the response. I watched them stand in the baking sun, registering community members and handing them jerry cans and water treatment bottles, along with the tarps. I joined them in a row from the truck to the very organised lines of people, handing tarp after tarp down the line. They kept saying "ma'am Carly, you should go and stand in the shade," but were delighted when I told them that I was their assistant for the day. They told their team leader that they'd loved having me with them for the day as it forced them to practice their English (which is very good as it is!)

I spent yesterday morning around Tacloban city, figuring out where we could distribute more tarps. We drove along one stretch of road, just beside the water, and the devastation was mind boggling. The driver told me that after the typhoon, everything that had once made the houses along the water line had been blown onto the road and the other side. The road was now clear, and there were just piles and piles of timber, iron sheeting, and other household goods stacked up beside the road. One 6x4m tarp isn't going to go a long way here, as these families have basically nothing left, but I hope it will go some way to keeping them dry in the rain we've been having.

At one stop there were military and police hanging around, and they didn't want to let us walk down the road to the community we wanted to visit. We found out that the UN Secretary General was going to be visiting, but not for a couple of hours, so they finally let us through. There was a hive of activity going on, with people cleaning the road further, and trying to tidy up a little bit more. Looking around and noticing what had survived the typhoon was so interesting, a wall here, a door there, a toilet sitting out in the open. I haven't seen any of the coverage of Ban Ki Moon's visit, but I hope it brings more attention to the response, and the vast amounts of work left to be done.
And so now it's Sunday and we have the whole day off. It really doesn't feel like Christmas in just a few days. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tindog Tacloban

I arrived in Tacloban on Friday. For the first time in my life I travelled by helicopter, a free service provided by UNHAS, the UN Humanitarian Air Service. And it wasn't a dull beige or white like the UNHAS planes normally are, it was fancy and red.
We hovered for quite some time, just off the ground, and so I entertained myself by reading the safety card. I interpret this as "in case of emergency, casually saunter from the aircraft looking uber cool"
Light heartedness aside, as we flew closer to Tacloban, the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan became quite evident. 33 million coconut trees were destroyed by the storm. From the air I could see trees that had been uprooted, and flung horizontally into the ground. Then there was this:

There wasn't a car available to pick me up at that time, so I jumped into a moto trike and was shocked and impressed at what I saw on the way. The damage is overwhelming. I've never seen the aftermath of a bombing in person, (wait a minute, yes I have) but it's what I imagine Tacloban, and other affected areas of the Philippines most closely resemble. But the other incredible sight to see, was the amount of work that's already been done.
The trip to the hotel we're using as an office wouldn't have been more than 20 minutes, and the road was clear the entire way. Debris is piled up around everywhere, but the road has been completely cleared.
On Monday I headed south to two municipalities we had helped the local authorities to organise coordination meetings in. It was a sobering journey, to see kilometre after kilometre of mangled shells of factories, of small remnants of concrete houses, and vacant spaces where other homes used to be.
There were stretches of road where I could see where the storm surge had rushed in. Vacant lots covered in silt, people and homes just washed away in a matter of moments. The media has not over sold this crisis, it's absolutely devastating.

The organisation I work for has already done a lot of fantastic work. I'm here in Tacloban to help kickstart three areas of work, which unfortunately have no staff recruited for yet, but are really important elements to complement the water, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities, and the food security and livelihoods work that we do. It's a new role for me, with added responsibilities, so it's already been extremely interesting, engaging and challenging, and I'm looking forward to seeing the areas progress.

Even though there is a lot of work to be done, the people of Tacloban, of Palo, Tanauan, Macarthur, Mayorga and all of the other municipalities that have been affected, are absolutely inspiring in their resolve to pick up the pieces and rebuild their communities and lives. "Tindog" means "rise up" in the local dialect of Waray and that spirit is evident everywhere you go. We throw the word 'resilience' around a lot in humanitarian work, but the Philippines has it in abundance.

As we drove I noticed a lot of hand made cardboard signs saying 'we need water' and the words "help" or "SOS" spray painted on roads. And I also noticed twice as many hand made signs that said things like "Thank you to the world for helping us" and "Thank you for being here." There has been overwhelming support financially for our work here in the immediate aftermath, I just hope that the world won't forget about the Philippines in a few months.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

18 days

It's the afternoon before my first day off since I started my journey to the Philippines 18 days ago. The hours have been long, but that hasn't been a problem - it's amazing how fast 15 hours can fly by when you're busy for every minute of them. I'm now based in Cebu City, in the temporary office we have in a hotel conference room. My colleagues are truly something special - the national team here are very experienced in responding to typhoons (and other disasters) and have all been so welcoming and hard working, and always smiling. As for my international colleagues - there have been many reunions with old pals, and plenty of new friends as well. We've got a great bunch of people in Cebu, and in three field offices in areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

I haven't gotten out to any of our field locations yet, but they are doing fantastic things. I look forward every morning to calculating the new numbers of people we've reached and the figures are pretty impressive. From a few thousand in the first few days, to now close to 200,000 it is just amazing what my colleagues can do. I hope to get out and see for myself soon enough, but there's plenty of work to be getting on with in the meantime.

But what I'm really looking forward to is a big sleep in, and a day by a pool somewhere with a good book tomorrow. It's very much needed, and I think well deserved!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

And I'm Back!

Well it's been about four and a half months at home. Not quite the six months I had originally planned, but considering I had no luck finding an apartment to buy because I don't quite have enough money, I figured it was probably a good idea to go back to work. I decided this last week and set tomorrow (Wednesday) as my return date, pretty sure there'd be no deployment for me to go to immediately so I'd still have time to finish my novel and my quilt.

Um. No.

I'm flying out to the Philippines for an indefinite period tonight. No doubt you've seen the devastating images; there's going to be a lot to do. I'm actually really excited about getting back to work, and catching up with colleagues there. I had a huge mound of stuff to pack this morning, and somehow it has all fit in my bag which zipped up without any problems....I haven't weighed it yet, but I'd put my money on 19kgs.

I have enjoyed my time off though. The novel is almost done...only about 4000 words until the first full draft is finished. The Doctor Who knitted quilt I've been working on is almost done. I just have to crochet it altogether. I've had a ball knitting up a storm, and teaching myself to crochet various bits and pieces. I'm all set for retirement really.

I've also had a couple of visits down to Melbourne for apartment hunting and general fun times, and a great road trip with my dad down to Canberra where we didn't manage to defend our championship at the National Capri and Small Ford Muster. But we did have gorgeous weather for navigating around the nation's capital, and indeed for the 1300km each way drive (though I didn't join Dad for the drive home).

I think everybody should take sabbatical's now and then to recharge their batteries, attempt new things (even if they are unsuccessful) and just generally enjoy themselves. I for one can highly recommend it. From here on in, I don't think there'll be much recharging of batteries for a while, and I've got to say, I can't wait!!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hug a Humanitarian today

I know I said I wasn't going to be posting much, but today is a special day in aid worker land. It's World Humanitarian Day. Today marks 10 years since the attack on the UN offices in Baghdad which killed 22 people. Since then, August 19 has been a day to commemorate those colleagues we've lost in the course of their work, and recognise the work of aid workers around the world.

It seems crazy when you think about. No one should be worried about being killed at their workplace, unless they're an Alaskan deep sea fisherman, or Evil Kinevil or something. And yet every year, humanitarian workers are killed in their workplaces. For those who aren't in the sector you may think that it's people like me, foreigners, who are targeted but that isn't the case. The majority of aid workers who are killed in the field are national staff members, people who are working in their own communities.

I remain entirely lucky that none of my friends or colleagues have lost their lives. I know people who have been attacked and kidnapped but thankfully they all escaped with their limbs and lives. Today I not only think of those who have been killed, but of the thousands of aid workers who are out there right now, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Somalia, in CAR, and all over the world who are doing amazing things.

If you happen to see a humanitarian today, give them a hug for all of the good work they do.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The quiet life

I'm not doing a lot at the moment. I'm on unpaid leave from my job, trying to buy an apartment in a different city to the one I live in. I've not had any success yet, but I'm sure it will happen eventually. In the meantime, I'm enjoying a quiet life, walks on the beach, a lot of knitting and some Zumba-ing. So there's not a lot to update on and therefore I won't be posting much for the foreseeable future. I will consider instagram (chasingcarly) to be my mini-blog for the next little while, so you can see what I'm up to there.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Holiday fun and games

I've been back in Australia for almost three weeks now, it feels both longer and sorter at the same time. I've been enjoying doing quite a bit of nothing, interspersed with fun things like talking to banks about mortgages, and going for drives with the top down...winter on the Gold Coast is awesome!
My weekends are spent hanging out with Jules and Vardy in Brisbane, being a spoiled guinea pig by Vardy  trying out weird and wonderful organic, healthy recipes. On one such weekend, a beautiful winter's day where the temperature was about 23 degrees and the sun was warm, Julie and I went for a little bushwalk at Mt Cootha which was lovely.
I came down to Melbourne last Friday on a bit of a scoping mission to figure out what suburbs I might want to buy a flat in. And lucky for a me, a colleague I worked with in Pakistan just happened to be in town, so we had a spontaneous adventure down to Brighton Beach (which only took 20 mins on the train) to find the very British beach huts that are so fabulously painted.
As the afternoon progressed the clouds started coming over, but there were still lots of people out and about enjoying the day. It was great to have a catch up and go on an adventure!

Emma kindly drove me around to a few open inspections on Saturday, one was lovely but too small, and the rest were dumps. Seriously, how do people not clean their houses before an inspection, or worse, before an auction!!

Sunday was a super exciting day, we went up to Mt Bulla to go skiing for the day. I'm not the best of skiers, but I did a lot better than I thought I would, even tackling a run that I wasn't entirely comfortable with, but made it down in one piece.
The conditions were terrible, I would lose sight of Emma quite easily ahead of me (because she's a good skier!) and the chairlifts rides were pretty miserable. But our spirits were high and a great day was had. 
Now I'm curled up on the day bed under a doona (now that I'm not surrounded by British people I can say doona instead of duvet!), contacting real estate agents to organise inspections and generally enjoying being on holidays. I've got a busy schedule of catch ups ahead, and Jules is coming down next week to do a little drive along the Great Ocean Road ahead of my birthday...note to self, organise some sort of birthday party....

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bye Bye Beirut

What can I say about leaving Beirut? It's been a very interesting five and a half months. At times it has felt like a LOT longer than that, and others it feels like I've only been here a few weeks. Either way, it's been wonderful to be back in Lebanon, living in my favourite suburb, and down the street from my favourite coffee shop. My colleagues have been an excellent bunch - it would be hard to find a more experienced, capable and friendly group.

I had a great farewell on Saturday night with my lovely colleagues and special visits from Nicole, Chadi, Jenan and her lovely new husband Karim who all came down from the North, and Oli and Sara with their cheeky little monkey Sam so it was fantastic to have a little UNRWA reunion as well. It doesn't feel like it was 3 years ago that I last said good-bye to all of them.

I leave with mixed feelings. The Syria crisis will continue on for the foreseeable future, and there is so much work for the team to do, with limited funding available to do so. I hope it turns around for them soon, and they manage to deliver the fantastic programme they aspire to do. On the other hand, I can't wait to get home. I'm taking a long period of time off, to hopefully buy my own little cave, and find some semblance of a 'normal' life...at least for a while!!

So Chasing Carly may not be that action packed in the near future. I expect to be spending a lot of time in the hammock (winter where I live is still pretty warm and sunny) resting, and then cracking on with my sci-fi young adult fiction novel. With you all as my witnesses, I WILL have it finished by 31st August. (Incidentally, if anyone knows any 'young adults' who might be interested in critiquing the 25,000 words I have so far, do get in touch!)

Now I just have to get through the 24 hours of travel ahead of me...oh the joys of living in Australia!!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Final field trip

I was thrilled to get out of the office on Wednesday to help the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) team document the 'before' situations of a couple of the informal tented settlements they'll be working in. It's very useful to catalogue what facilities the sites have and what the needs are, so that when the work is under way and completed they can refer back to the document and photos to see exactly what improvements have been made.

There are over 270 tented settlements scattered across Lebanon. As there are no formal refugee camps established (other than the Palestinian camps that have been here for 60+ years) and the rental prices continue to increase, many families are moving into improvised shelters, made with wooden frames or bits of scrap material covered in things like plastic sheetings, cement bags, blankets or strips of hessian. Some of the sites are on government owned land, in other cases, Lebanese land owners are allowing refugees to stay. Sometimes they pay rent, sometimes they provide labour in exchange, sometimes it's free.

Some shelters are larger than others, and house a lot of people:
This room for example sleeps 12 people. While it looks quite spacious during the daylight, you can imagine how stuffy and awkward this would be at night, particularly as the weather gets hotter. It's too hot inside the tent during the day, but luckily there is a big shady tree outside where the families can sit. 
There was a small patch of concrete inside the 'tent' which they had converted into a bathing room. The rest of the flooring where they sleep is gravel underneath the mats and they're having problems with rats. 
There were 5 families living in this settlement and they were really struggling. They had managed to construct a toilet for themselves, with a 'superstructure' made from an old water tank. While this was a big improvement on having to defecate in the shrubbery nearby, it still isn't completely private. The women have to go to the bathroom in pairs, so one woman can block the opening. Men will whistle or call out that they are in there. 
At the second site the shelters were generally smaller, and the facilities were also extremely poor. We were told that while there were a few toilets, the tanks were full so they were unusable. They have to defecate in the open, which is a real problem for the women, as they never have any privacy; "there are always men around."
One particular family had improvised with their roofing:
(It's a large promo poster for Star Trek.) This particular settlement has approximately 100 families living in it. My organisation will help provide them with better access to water, improved sanitation facilities, and also hygiene supplies and education on keeping clean with minimal supplies, all to reduce the potential for public health diseases, and of course, to improve the quality of life. We'll also provide an information and referral service, so that the people living in these settlements can find out what agencies can provide them with, their entitlements and rights. 

It's a pretty awful situation to be in, no matter what, but if we can help make it that bit more bearable and safe, then that's a good thing. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A long overdue letter

Dear Shwarma Man,

It's been a long time! About three years since I saw you. I was getting really disappointed as I hadn't made it up to Tripoli in the past five months to see if you were still there. But yesterday, I managed to get up north. And I managed to convince my colleagues that we should come and see you to get some lunch. I'm so glad they agreed. At first I was a little bit concerned, because your shop wasn't where it used to be. But as we kept driving down the road I spotted your name on the signboard....directly under my old apartment!! You'd expanded to a shop twice the size.

I was very excited when I walked in, and you were very busy. But when you looked up and recognised me I was so happy! My colleagues commented that they were amazed that you recognised me, but I knew you would. It was nice to have a little catch up with you, and find out that you've been in the new shop for two years. When you asked if I was staying in Tripoli I was very sad to tell you that it was only for a quick stopover to get the best shwarma in Lebanon. But that made you smile, so I suppose it wasn't so bad.

I wasn't nervous at all biting into the shwarma, because I knew it would be delicious, and it was.

Thank you Shwarma Man, for making my day!

Love Carly.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Kitty season

There are teeny tiny kittens everywhere at the moment. Hiding out in little corners, peering down from ledges, everywhere. 

Even on awnings. At my favourite cafe, cats seem to fall out of the trees that lean up against the awning constantly. They also climb up these trees quite regularly as well. I had wondered where they were going; sometimes they just seem to chill out in awkward positions...
 But it all became very clear, when I spotted these two little faces, safe and sound up high:
Super cute. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I know I've been slack

It hasn't been a particularly eventful couple of weeks recently. I now have less than two weeks to go of this deployment so there's a lot to do in terms of wrapping up, writing handover notes for persons unknown and just generally figuring out what needs to be recorded for posterity.

The numbers of refugees leaving Syria continues to rise, with over 1.6 million people now in other countries. The UN has launched its largest ever appeal for funding, some $4 billion...which is probably an underestimate and is only the funds needed until the end of the year.

There is still a lot of work to be done...

Friday, May 31, 2013

A wedding, some parrots and a monster truck

I've been a bit busy. Last Saturday I went to my dear friend Elsa's wedding. Now, Elsa has already been married to her husband for a few years, but it was time for the Lebanon component of that. It was also a lovely Tripoli gang reunion, as a few of our friends are back in Beirut working on the Syria crisis, and a few people flew in especially for the wedding, which was so great. Elsa of course, looked absolutely stunning, and did a very good job of getting round all the guests and having a little chat. Unfortunately our photo was blurry. 
The evening was filled with excellent food and great music, with the dancefloor lit from below and above. Every so often the bride and/or groom were lifted up onto peoples' shoulders. Elsa's husband is French and it was really nice watching his relatives try and learn traditional dance moves.
Other things that have happened during the past week or so....well, J and I are now officially regulars at our local cafe. We stop in each morning on the way to work and don't even have to ask for the usual. We say hello to the table of older men who gather there each day, and like magic our cappuccinos appear. On the weekend we tend to stop in for brunch, and the baristas are starting to get very creative with the foam.
Across the road from the cafe there are two grey parrots. These guys whistle and squawk constantly, but every time I stop by them and whistle to them they ignore me...and then start up again as soon as I walk off as if to spite me. Little buggers. 
J has found this particularly entertaining, and has started seeing parrots everywhere...including in our bathroom. She dragged me into the bathroom the other night, told me to sit on the toilet and look at the toilet roll holder.  
 
I started laughing because I thought it was an iron. We've become a bit silly J and I...after I inadvertently took a photo of our iron on J's bedroom floor and was accused of being obsessed with both the iron and her bedroom, we've taken to hiding the iron around the apartment. I tucked it into her bed, Godfather style stifling my giggles all evening until she found it. When I woke up the following morning and opened my curtains, the iron was outside sitting there outside my balcony door. So I thought she was being funny with the toilet roll holder and pointing out another iron - she thought she was being funny pointing out another parrot. Either way, we laughed and laughed and laughed.

I love this ridiculous monster truck that never seems to go anywhere. I did witness the owner trying to start it up one day, but the engine refused to turn over.
 So that's a little bit of what's been happening around here. I've only got three and a half weeks left of this deployment, so I'm sure that will fly by very quickly and I'll be home before I know it!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Lazy day at Lazy B

Ingebjorg and I went to our favourite beach place on Saturday, Lazy B. Here's a photo of the two of us:
We were well prepared for our day at the beach. Even though we had a beach umbrella poised over us (and the man who was responsible for adjusting couldn't seem to understand that I didn't want any sun on me, ever) we took no chances and slipped, slopped and slapped. Ok, maybe just slopped, but slopped a lot.
While it was a lovely day temperature wise, the same could not be said about the temperature of the water. The pool was quite chilly, I stayed in for about a minute. Later in the afternoon we went down to swim in the sea and it was only marginally warmer, but we managed to float around for a while.
Such a great day!!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Silliness

It's Friday afternoon, and I'm in the mood for a little silliness. Thankfully I didn't have to look too far for some silliness to share. In our office, we have a big room where there are loads of desks, a kitchen, a bathroom and two smaller rooms that have fewer desks. One of these rooms has a hidden room. On first and second glances, you wouldn't even notice the door, and if you did, you would think it was a closet. It's not just a closet, it's a water closet (a bathroom). Of course, the only logical thing to do was to name this hidden cupboard bathroom "Narnia".

Every so often someone asks where such and such is, and someone else will reply "Think they've gone to Narnia", and there are smirks all round. I went in there the other day and noticed a little grafitti on the standard sign that appears in all bathrooms in Lebanon:
"Do not pollute the great river of Narnia! Thanks!" 

It never fails to crack me up. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Watercolour Maps

I found this site today, you can type in anywhere and it will make a watercolour map. Really cool! This is Beirut. I've tried it out with a few places, and I've bookmarked it as I think one day it would be great to print something out and frame it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Vignettes


I'm afraid my life hasn't been too interesting of late. Lots of little things have happened, so I thought I’d write some vignettes.

Spaces and Singalongs
I moved into an apartment with a colleague last week. We each have a good sized bedroom and there’s a long balcony that runs the length of the apartment, but otherwise no communal space. Luckily, we get along like a house on fire so we don’t mind hanging out together. J has a little ukulele with her. She’s only been playing less than 12 months, but is already a member of a band and an orchestra, so we’ve been having little singalongs. We took it to another level on Sunday, by re-writing the lyrics of songs she knows to be about our colleagues, who we had over for a pot luck dinner. Everyone had their own song...I think my favourite is the one for our public health advisor, to the tune of Hotel California:

[Am] In a dark tented settlement, [E7] hot wind in his hair
[G] Warm smell of faeces, [D] rising up through the air
[F] Q­ ____ rolls up his shirt sleeves, [C] the hygiene’s bad here
[Dm] He pulls out his handbook to check
[E7]What he needs for Sphere

The iPod and the Smartphone
I finally took the plunge and bought a decent smartphone. It’s a Samsung Galaxy III Mini. I bought it from a little phone shop that I've been frequenting. It all started with my beloved iPod Touch soon after I arrived in Beirut. It managed to get a little silica ball (from the packet that came in my new handbag that I’d neglected to throw out that had split open and spread little balls throughout my bag) stuck right up inside the headphone jack. So I took it around to a few shops to see who would fix it, and these guys would. Unfortunately, when it came back the guy was extremely apologetic as he’d scratched the screen and couldn't find a replacement. He didn't charge me for the work they’d done and promised to keep looking. I called in a couple of weeks ago and they said that if they hadn't found a replacement in two weeks they’d give me a second hand iPod (the next generation) for free. We went back and forth on it and silly me waited too long to go back and they’d sold it to someone else. Totally my own fault, and I made the decision to buy a fancy phone instead. And not only did they give me $10 off, they also threw in a case for free. I like these guys.  

The Filter Decision 
Of course it has a camera on it, so I've joined Instagram to share such photographic wonders as my fluro orange nail polish,
 the veggies I chopped for a stirfry last night

and this morning’s stop at my favourite coffee shop in the whole world. I'm trying to use a different filter for each photo...

Keeping Time
Just days before I left for Lebanon, my watch of about 9 years finally packed it in (which may or may not have been related to a hot tub in Yemen) and I didn't have time to shop around for a proper replacement. So I bought a $19 watch from KMart. A few days into my deployment, I was telling a colleague about this and showing her the replacement watch, at which moment the band broke. I tried fixing it, I asked some guys with tools at a shop when I was buying a SIM card and they couldn't fix it. I wrapped up the little pin that had fallen out in a piece of paper and kept it safely in my purse, and in the meantime was challenged to buy the most blingtastic watch I could find for $10. I accomplished that. 
The problem of course with this $10 watch is that it didn't really keep the time too well, so when people asked me for the time I could only reply with "it might be 11:15". The other day I actually remembered to put the replacement watch into my bag as a reminder to duck into a watch shop when I found one. And since I now live in the best street ever, of course there was one just down the road. I handed it over to the guy along with the little pin that I had kept so safe, and he immediately fumbled it and spent the next few minutes moving furniture around to find it. It took him less time to actually fix it. And wouldn't you know it, after four months this watch has still kept the time..it somehow even managed to work itself onto daylight savings time! 

Fire! Fire! 
And this, excitement just at hand. We thought we could smell smoke, but didn't think too much of it. Then looked out the office window to see a fire truck. No-one seemed to be making much of a fuss, the firemen were just hanging around beside the truck, so we stayed put. About 10 minutes later a couple of firemen ambled very casually into the office and checked each room...the fact that we were all sitting very calmly at our desks didn't seem to indicate to them that there probably wasn't a fire in our office, and they ambled on out. They're still parked downstairs, I'm not sure what's going on, but there doesn't seem to be a fire....


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Another day in Za'atri Camp

I spent four days in Amman this week, to help the team out there with a few things. On Wednesday I went back to Za'atri camp with a couple of the community mobilisation assistants. These women are absolutely fantastic. They not only do such things as site new places for latrines, but check in on the people with special needs, refer cases to other NGOs/UN agencies, and generally keep everyone updated on the progress of their works. It was very obvious to me how much they care about the people in our modules in the camp, and how much the people appreciate them. 

The first stop of the day was to determine a site for a new latrine. These little tackers spotted my camera and demanded I take a photo of them. 
 The boy on the right, who's 10, indicated that he'd like to have a go, so I handed him my camera and he dashed off to a nearby caravan and snapped this photo. Cute huh.
 These are the WASH blocks we've got under construction. There are ones for men and women at the end of each street.
 Inside there are latrines, shower cubicles, space to do laundry and taps for washing before prayers. They're quite fancy, but the cost is lower than the rehabilitation costs for another organisation whose blocks were damaged. The community mobilisers work with the refugees to make sure their needs are addressed and that they'll take ownership of the blocks when completed, so we shouldn't see the same levels of vandalism as in other parts of the camp.
Another activity for the day was tile painting with kids. The tiles will be included in the WASH blocks so again, the kids will feel like they are part of the process. Some of them were quite attractive, like this red one.
We now have an office in the camp, which is a demountable building, much like the caravans the refugees are living in. It's much easier for the team now to have a space to look at the plans, send emails and get a cool drink. I was astounded by this keyboard, it had been clean in the morning when we got there, and this was it by about 3pm! I was also astounded as I was walking down to the restrooms to run into a friend of mine who I didn't even know was in Jordan!
One of the services we're providing are latrine commodes for the disabled. They look like wheelchairs but the seat lifts off as you can see, and there's a covered bucket underneath for waste disposal. Quite nifty really.
I went to meet a 91 year old Mohammed, who'd received one of the commodes. He was asleep when we arrived, but his daughter ushered us in and told us about the challenges they'd faced in Syria, and the decision she made to flee with her 4 nieces and nephews and her elderly father - there was a sniper set up in their street. Her brother has stayed behind. After a while, Mohammed woke up and joined the conversation. He started telling us a story of how when he was 10 years old he and his older brother led a blind man from their village in Syria to Palestine. It was a 2 day walk. He then went back to Palestine as an adult and worked there for a couple of years and he can still speak Hebrew.

He was a lovely man, and I wished that I could've spoken to him all day. He said he really liked my organisation because the staff are always smiling and nobody looks at him with pity. Alas it was time for me to leave.

The camp has certainly changed a bit since the last time I was there. There are now more facilities in our modules, and another NGO has set up a distribution warehouse nearby so people don't have to walk as far. There are also a lot more caravans, but still a lot of tents. It was a beautiful sunny day, after such miserable weather last week, but it was slightly concerning that we're not even in May yet and it's already so hot...it will be quite unbearable for the refugees come summer.
I'd set out to get some case studies of families living in our area who were happy with what they'd received from us and it really wasn't hard. The amount of work and dedication from the community mobilisation team has really paid off; they're very popular in the camp and everywhere they go people stop to say hi. It was quite inspiring watching them work, and I really wished I could've gone back again the next day. Hopefully next time I go back to Jordan I'll be there for a couple of weeks so I can spend more time in the camp.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Imagine for a minute

Imagine for a minute that you live a nice house, with a garden that you lovingly care for, your children are happy in school and you have a job that you love or hate, but one that you go to five days a week. You live in a nice community, say hello to your neighbours when you see them, and when you go to the supermarket you buy the food that you and your family enjoy eating. That's not hard to imagine is it?

Imagine that you take your family out for a picnic one weekend. You have a lovely afternoon enjoying the fresh air, the kids run around for a while and everyone has a great time. Not hard to imagine either. Now what happens when you return home and you find that your house has been bombed and you have nothing left?

I've heard this story first hand, from refugees from Syria. My colleagues have also heard it from other families who one day were living their lives (as normally as can be in the midst of a civil war), and the next had absolutely nothing. Their only option was to flee their homes and neighbourhoods and cross an international border. Many refugees from Syria have extended family living in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, or Egypt and have had somewhere to go, someone to look after them. But many thousands of people have nowhere to go, no support system to look out for them, no choice.

In Jordan, 150,000 people now call the Za'atri camp home. I've shared some photos of that camp before. Syria is a middle income country, and many (most?) of the refugees now living in the camp have never spent a night in a tent, let alone months and months and months. It's hard to imagine leaving a comfortable home to live in a tent. There aren't jobs, there aren't enough schools. When you add on top of this being completely reliant on aid agencies to provide you with food, sharing kitchen and bathroom facilities with hundreds of people, most of whom are strangers, it becomes very hard to imagine how people cope. About 70% of refugees don't live in camps, they are staying with family, or with people who are opening their homes free of charge. Many are renting rooms and are running out of money fast.

In Lebanon there isn't a formal camp. People again are renting small rooms, sometimes containing more than one family, and sometimes the only spaces that can be afforded are sub-standard garages or incomplete buildings. Informal tented settlements are springing up, where landowners have allowed refugees to pitch tents on their land, and there are no services. It was a very cold winter this year in Lebanon, but thankfully it has been warming up.

Over one million people have been registered by UNHCR as refugees outside of Syria. There are hundreds of thousands more who haven't been registered yet. There are about 4 million people affected by the conflict still in Syria. Only one in five schools in Syria are still open.  The scale of the destruction caused by this war is massive, and it will takes years and years to rebuild...which can only happen after an end to the conflict is found.

The organisation I worked for has recently declared this a Category 1 emergency - the highest priority for the whole confederation. For us in the field, that means a whole lot of support and attention can be expected from various HQs around the world, but at this stage, we still have a very limited amount of funding to get assistance to the people in need. And the people in need aren't just refugees, but the communities that are hosting refugees, who are seeing strains on resources and competition for all ready limited jobs. The needs are only going to increase; it is expected that there will be one million refugees in Lebanon by the end of the year - I'm not sure what the projections for Jordan are.

We need to increase the size of our programmes which is a very difficult thing to do when there aren't the funds to do so. We have teams of people working hard to try and raise more money from the public, from governmental donors, from foundations and the private sector. The organisation itself has provided funding from its reserves to get things moving but so much more is needed.

What makes this even more difficult as we are just one organisation; all agencies are struggling to get the funding needed to cover the needs. Coordination between agencies is happening to try and ensure that duplication of services is limited, to make sure the resources are spread out.

I shall end this with a request: if you can afford to donate please do so to the reputable aid agency of your choice. Every little bit helps. Really.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Yes, this is about shoes

I loathe shoe shopping. Loathe it. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered over the past week that the three pairs of shoes I've been wearing day in, day out, for the past 3 months are all falling apart. Considering for the vast majority of last year (and probably most of the previous 5 years) I lived in flip flops, it was quite a change for me to work in winter conditions and have to wear closed in shoes all the time.

First, my knee high boots have torn away at the toe...yes, perhaps some super glue would fix the problem but these boots are about 3 years old and it's time to say goodbye. Secondly, my goretex shoes that have seen any number of muddy refugee camps have somewhat collapsed internally, which I painfully discovered after a power walk the other evening when my foot cramped up and I almost fell over. These shoes are also about 3.5 years old. Thirdly, the black Mary Janes that have lovely arch support have got holes in them. I have no idea how old these are, but for consistency's sake we'll say over 3 years old.

So they all have to go (on the up side, this means less space taken up in my luggage when I leave!) and that left me with the hassle of shoe shopping. Many people would be delighted for an excuse to buy shoes, after all this isn't a matter of want, it's a matter of need. But not me. I knew I needed a couple of pairs of spring-ish shoes, as the weather is starting to warm up, and a new pair of runners.

I figured the only way to make the shoe shopping experience less painful, was to buy shoes that would make me happy when I looked at them (and also when I wore them). Hence, blue runners:
Fawn flats with fluro orange trim and heels (my housemates in Yemen could confirm how much I've wanted fluro orange shoes in my life)
And green flats with a maroon trim and bright yellow bow...I mean, come on, these will go with everything!
Colourful things make me happy. While I'm sure there is a lot of truth to wearing colours that match your complexion, I'm a firm subscriber of the "if it's a bright colour that perhaps washes out your colouring but it makes you happy when you wear it, then you should wear it because everyone looks good wearing a smile" school of thought (I may have just made up that particular school of though). I think if I apply that logic to my clothing, then it fits with shoes as well. So, in a nutshell, I'm very happy now that I have colourful shoes.

Speaking of colourful, the sunset was pretty nice this evening.
I've been meaning to write a more serious post about the situation in Syria, and the responses I've been working on, but my brain hurts at the end of the day, so much so that I find myself writing a lengthy blog post about shoes. We're expecting a bit of a big internal change next week, so perhaps that will inspire me to write something more. Insha'allah, you won't have another blog post about shoes for another 3.5 years at least! :-)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Beirut Shoot

I had a fantastic afternoon wandering around Mar Mikhael with Ingebjorg and Kristin, browsing through funky little stores and marvelling at how lovely and warm the temperature was. The first stop of our photo shoot were these colourful stairs. As I was sitting there, this old man approached enthusiastically humming the American national anthem...well, not humming, it was a lot of 'ra pah pah pah'. I told him I wasn't American, so he asked me to sing my national anthem. I declined, but he was still happy to jump in for a few photos...what a character! 
After some more wandering we headed for a most incredible 'brunch' (it was more like a late lunch!) at Tawlet. Somehow, Ingebjorg and I mustered up the energy on our full bellies to do a little "Where's Wally" photo shoot. We'd passed what looked like a graveyard for old buses  and headed back there. The gentlemen there were happy to let us in, but told us to make it quick. 

Wally was very happy to be going on a bus ride 
 But this bus wasn't going anywhere any time soon!
 I love the reflections of the buildings in the window.
Ingebjorg must have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Beirut graffiti, because she remembered this one from our last visit here together in October. I can't decide if this is more Munch, or Home Alone. 
We kept walking around the little streets and I noticed an open doorway (beside a bright yellow Lamborghini  and stepped in to check it out. It was the perfect setting for a silhouette. 
All fun and games this weekend!! :-)