Syrian refugees receive shelter, hope through Church-Shelterbox partnership

The Church is supporting ShelterBox to provide displaced families with materials for shelter as they flee violence or poverty in Syria

Umm Ahmad was pregnant when a plane bombarded her home and village in Syria. She ran for safety with her 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.

“We ran until the neighbors came and helped me. We went outside, and the houses were demolished,” she said.

They had been happy with their lives, but they could no longer live there anymore. The family ended up at a camp for internally displaced persons.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worked together with the nonprofit organization ShelterBox in Syria to give tarpaulins and other materials for shelter to displaced families. Ahmad said it made a difference in her life.

“I have had twins, and we needed mattresses for them to sleep on. Mattresses and blankets will protect them from the cold and diseases. I have never received [a] shelter kit before. Now I have the kit, my life will change for the better,” she said.

Serena Kelsch, ShelterBox’s humanitarian director of strategic partnerships, said the Church has been pivotal the last several years in providing foundational support to the organization as they work to reach more people.

“We wouldn’t be in Syria right now if the Church wasn’t supporting this work,” she said. 

Kelsch said providing Ahmad with mattresses and blankets meant the mother could keep her two babies warm. Having shelter allowed her older children to begin healing physically, mentally and emotionally.

“We find when you can keep the family together, everyone does better. And having the stability of a tent means instead of looking for shelter every night, they can look for food and a job. The kids can start going back to school. It reduces the chance of a devastating downward spiral from happening,” she said.

Umm Ahmad and her children in their new tent given to them from ShelterBox, soon after they arrived at a camp for displaced persons and before Ahmad gave birth to twins. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave funding and support to ShelterBox as they worked to help Syrians through the winter months of 2022-2023. | ShelterBox

‘We aren’t leaving’

Syria is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Before the war, it was a middle-income country — highly educated and very sophisticated. People had good jobs and could support themselves.

But now, a growing number of Syrians live in poverty. The economy has collapsed. Homes have been destroyed, and families have had to move away from their communities. 

“The men are forced to fight, and the women are supporting large families on their own,” Kelsch said. “These women can’t get jobs. They are separated from their community and living in camps, and they can’t make money.”

Kelsch said ShelterBox has been in Syria since 2012. “We aren’t leaving,” she said. “If the war were to miraculously end today, they would still need our help because there has been such a huge impact on the economy.”

Umm Ahmad looks at one of her newborn twins as she and her other children sit in their new tent given to them from ShelterBox at a camp for displaced persons. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave funding and support to ShelterBox as they worked to help Syrians through the winter months of 2022-2023. | ShelterBox

ShelterBox has partners in Syria and suppliers in Turkey who risk their lives to get supplies to those in need. Working with the United Nations, ShelterBox assesses which areas particularly in northern Syria need the most help — and which camps will need things through the winter. 

“Sometimes it’s tents, sometimes it’s tarpaulins and tools, sometimes it’s a kitchen set, sometimes clothing or rugs. We will build out what we give them based on what they tell us they need,” Kelsch said.

‘We can’t do this alone’

Besides providing funding, the Church also supports the work through awareness, Kelsch said. 

ShelterBox is a small- to medium-sized organization, but 14 million Syrians around the world need assistance. The more that people learn about what is needed and understand what is going on, the more they can help. No one organization can do it all, but coming together and helping each other is the key.

“We know the Church has 17 million members and we know you are sharing these stories and the work that we are doing and the work that needs to be done,” she said. “We can’t do this alone, and we need the whole world to know what is happening in Syria.”

Ahmad is rebuilding her life now that her basic needs are met. She is trying to not let her children feel the suffering of displacement.

“I always keep my children by my side and don’t let them far away from me,” she said. “I play with them in the tent, tell them stories, and we go out together, outside the tent. I tell them that life is beautiful, things will get better, and we will be happy soon.”

Two of Umm Ahmed’s children play by their tent in a camp for internally displaced persons in northern Syria. They received a tent and other supplies from ShelterBox, which has received funding and support from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help Syrians during the winter of 2022-2023. | ShelterBox
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