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Caritas is helping the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in Philippines

Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick and parishioners at a church in Palo that was damaged by Typhoon Haiyan. © Catholic Relief Services

Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick and parishioners at a church in Palo that was damaged by Typhoon Haiyan.
© Catholic Relief Services

“There is devastation everywhere and the victims are in desperate need of everything,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines-NASSA, after visiting destroyed villages in the province of Leyte hard hit by Typhoon Haiyan.

“Caritas has to step up its distribution of food and materials for temporary shelters. The mobilisation of the Church and the solidarity of neighbouring dioceses and Caritas organisations around the world have made us confident that we’ll be able to face the challenges of this major emergency,” he said.

In Ormoc, most of the houses have been destroyed and people are still trying to salvage materials from their homes so they can build temporary shelters.

Demetria Omega is one of the typhoon’s victims in Ormoc. In her stall containing a few fruits and vegetables and surrounded by her grandchildren, she talks about her traumatic experience.

“When the typhoon struck I thought I was going to die,” she said. “All the houses were flying apart and it was extremely difficult for my son, grandchildren and I to protect ourselves.

“My house was behind me, and now nothing is left. First of all we need food and then the wherewithal to build a shelter.”

Demetria is doing whatever she can to deal with the problems. “We can’t just sit and do nothing. I managed to get a small $25 loan and set up this fruit and vegetable stall. So I hope I’ll be able to support my family and deal with this disaster. It’s important to keep busy and do what I can for my grandchildren,” she said.

While the devastation in Ormoc is substantial, it’s even greater in Tacloban, especially in the village of Palo.

“When I look out of the window of my damaged house, it looks like a valley of death,” says Msgr John Du, Archbishop of Palo, one of the villages hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan in the province of Leyte.

“In Palo, 95 percent of the buildings have disappeared. We’re burying bodies in the outskirts of parishes. Everything is lacking, although aid for the victims is being organised and we’re distributing food and materials so temporary shelters can be swiftly built,” he said.

A distribution of emergency shelter materials took place Monday in Ormoc and Palo.

With the arrival of one truck carrying 2,400 CRS (Catholic Relief Services is a CRS member) prepositioned tarps and another truck carrying 3,690 Cordaid (Caritas Netherlands) tarps; in the two field offices, there are now a total of 6,870 tarps for 6,572 families.

An additional 3,500 tarps have arrived in Cebu and will be sent to field offices as soon as transport is available, making a total of 10,370 tarps for emergency shelter already in country.


Ten days after the arrival of the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall, Caritas has a more precise idea of the damage caused and the victims’ needs. International aid efforts are still facing great logistical challenges in terms of their capacity to deliver food and other crucial items to the affected people who have lost everything.

Affected villages in the provinces of Leyte, Samar, Panay and Mindoro have had very little or no assistance so far.

In this context, the Catholic Church and Caritas network has proved to be vitally important in providing frontline aid delivery. Caritas Philippines has distributed 68,310 food packs distributed to 13 dioceses, with 345,000 people benefitting from relief aid.

Msgr Broderick Pabillo, the National Director of Caritas Philippines, thanked the Caritas organisations from around the world and asked them to carry on mobilising resources in order to be able to respond to the needs of the population.

“The prayers, solidarity and mobilisation of our brothers and sisters around the world will enable us to make progress,” he said.

Reporting by Ryan Worms

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International and local Caritas efforts underway in the Philippines

Packing aid a church centre in cebu for the worst hit communities in the Philippines. Carole Reckinger/Caritas Luxembourg

Packing aid a Church centre in Cebu for the worst hit communities in the Philippines. Carole Reckinger/Caritas Luxembourg

Aid is rushing to the Philippines from Caritas organisations around the world after Super Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) battered the country last weekend.

Caritas Germany have just ordered 10,000 shelters, hygiene kits and household kits for one of the worst hit islands of Leyte, due for delivery next week. Caritas member Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has chartered a 747 jet to transport 40,000 tarpaulins. A plane left Holland yesterday with 24 tonnes of tarps and 3300 medical kits from Caritas Netherlands (Cordaid).

The international Caritas relief effort is coordinated with the national Caritas and the local Church. Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines-NASSA, has been part of an International Caritas Humanitarian Team on Leyte.

“We have never faced anything of this magnitude,” he said. “We greatly appreciate the support and solidarity from Caritas members around the world. By working together in a coordinated way, we can help save lives and rebuild communities.”

Catholic Relief Services will begin handing out 28,000 temporary shelters in the hard-hit Philippine city of Ormoc this weekend. The weatherproof tarpaulins will go to residents whose homes were destroyed by the typhoon.

The tarps, along with kits containing hygiene and household items, are coming by boat from Cebu City and will be stored in the gymnasium of a Catholic school as the distribution is organised.

Ormoc, a city of 190,000, is on the western side of Leyte, across a small range of mountains from the provincial capital Tacloban. Both cities experienced 13-foot tidal surges and devastating winds after Haiyan came ashore with winds approaching 200 mph. There are estimates that 90 percent of the structures in Ormoc were damaged or destroyed.

International Caritas Humanitarian Team member Eoghan Rice of Irish Caritas agency Trócaire said the situation in Ormoc is calm: “Boats are coming in with aid. There is a lot of helicopter activity. Assistance is arriving.”

The Caritas team has been able to travel to Tacloban and to other remote areas of Leyte. “From what I have seen, it’s a very calm situation,” he said. “People are waiting very peacefully for aid to arrive.”

He says that the same mild atmosphere is present at the docks, where 6000 people are queuing up to leave on ferries to nearby Cebu. In the queue for the boat, he met by chance a Philippine family with relations in his hometown of Dublin.

Rollie Baldesco with his wife Mapeth and children Karyl, Esme and Ellyza wait for a boat to take them from Leyte island to nearby Cebu. (Photo: Eoghan Rice - Trócaire / Caritas)

Rollie Baldesco with his wife Mapeth and children Karyl, Esme and Ellyza wait for a boat to take them from Leyte island to nearby Cebu. (Photo: Eoghan Rice – Trócaire / Caritas)

Rollie and Mapeth Baldesco, both 41, and their children Karyl, 17, Esme, 4 and Ellyza, 6, are from Tacloban, where over 4000 people are now said to have died. “We almost didn’t make it,” said Rollie. “We were hiding downstairs from the wind, but we didn’t expect the wave to come. We had to grab the small children and swim upstairs.”

The need of aid in Tacloban is great. “Our house was ruined. We had no water. We were able to survive on some tinned food. We had to leave the city because we were afraid of disease as there are bodies on the street,” he said.

In addition to the Ormoc distribution, CRS plans to give shelters to residents of Palo on the eastern coast of Leyte about 10 miles south of Tacloban. Office space has been secured in Catholic church buildings there.

Caritas relief operations include a number of areas. “We’re trying to reach the devastated areas. But it’s still very difficult. There’s still no electricity or petrol, and no communications with people on the ground,” said Msgr Broderick Pabillo, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila, the President of Caritas Philippines (NASSA).

The Church has delivered eight truckloads of food packs, water, clothing and cash to the Archdiocese of Capiz, where tens of thousands of people are in need.

The Church has also opened a base in Calbayog to help reach people on Samar Island. Fr. Cesar Aculan, who is working on relief operations, said it will provide a critical staging area for emergency relief operations.

Significant Caritas relief operation began on 13 December there in support of the work being done by parishes.“Typhoon victims here in need food, they are already hungry,” said Fr. Aculan.

Fr. Neil Tenafrancia of the Diocese of Borongan said there is no let up in the Church and other organisation’s relief efforts but the fuel crisis limits their operations. “That’s our problem here because we remain isolated. Many roads were destroyed by the typhoon,” he said.

Msgr Broderick Pabillo says the people of the Philippines has shown great solidarity.

“Filipinos are willing to help the victims, with donations and also with prayers. Here in Manila many volunteers are preparing the aid parcels that are being sent to the disaster areas,” he said. “They’re also welcoming the survivors who’ve managed to get to Cebu and then Manila.”

All Catholic Church Masses in the Philippines for the following nine days will be offered for the dead and the grieving families they left behind.

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Eye witness accounts in Tacloban as Philippine relief efforts continue

Mulvarosa Pepilla Perote (57) and her grandson Brynzsly (12). They survived the typhoon but Mulvarosa’s nephew, his wife, mother-in-law and 9 month old child have not been seen since. They lived close to the sea in an area that was destroyed by waves. (Photo: Eoghan Rice - Trócaire / Caritas)

Mulvarosa Pepilla Perote (57) and her grandson Brynzsly (12). They survived the typhoon but Mulvarosa’s nephew, his wife, mother-in-law and 9 month old child have not been seen since. They lived close to the sea in an area that was destroyed by waves. (Photo: Eoghan Rice – Trócaire / Caritas)

An International Caritas Humanitarian Team is in the worst hit areas of Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). The team have linked up with local parishes and Caritas staff in Tacloban and Ormoc.

Team member Eoghan Rice said that the damage is incredible. “There are parts of Tacloban where 90 percent of the buildings have been destroyed. The conditions people face are extraordinary.”

People are taking shelter in schools, shops and any other public buildings left standing in Tacloban. The Caritas team, led by Caritas Philippines Director Fr. Edwin Gariguez, visited a local seminary that has been turned into an evacuation centre where local Caritas and Church volunteers are helping over 500 survivors.

Mulvarosa Pibilra Perote is one of them, The 57 year old grandmother has five grown up children and three grandchildren, 11, 10 and 4 years old. They were at home when the storm hit.

“We were all very frightened,” she said. “We thought we were going to die. The children were crying. We were holding onto whatever we could. Many people died in our neighbourhood, including seven in just one family.”

Aid began to arrive in Tacloban overland from Maasin on Sunday. Credit: Caritas Philippines

Aid began to arrive in Tacloban overland from Maasin on Sunday. Credit: Caritas Philippines

The official death toll for Tacloban City rose to 2,000 on Thursday, but that covers only bodies that have been collected or visually confirmed by authorised officials.

“We saw recovery teams pulling bodies out of the rubble. There are dead people in body bags still on the side of the road,” said Eoghan Rice.

Many people remain missing, including Mulvarosa’s nephew, his wife, their 9 month old baby and his mother-in-law. “Nobody knew to expect the waves. My nephew’s family lived by the coast. I told him to move, but he didn’t listen. We’re still looking for them,” she said.

Caritas Philippines has been able to truck food and water to the area through its local network and provide blanket distributions of the aid. More aid is on the way with 18,000 food packs to arrive in Ormoc by the weekend and 18,720 for Tacloban.

Mulvarosa’s family has received rice, noodles and tinned goods. “My house is virtually destroyed. It has no roof,” she said. “I’m very grateful to receive food and shelter.”

A Dutch military plane with 30 tonnes of aid, including 5000 tarpaullins and 3300 medical kits for CORDAID. Credit: Cordaid.

A Dutch military plane with 30 tonnes of aid, including 5000 tarpaullins and 3300 medical kits for CORDAID. Credit: Cordaid.

Caritas Philippines has given €150,000 to 11 diocese to provide food and water. Over 20,000 bags of relief goods have been sent by Caritas Manila to 13 affected dioceses by truck and boat.

International relief is on its way too. Caritas Netherlands (Cordaid) has 24 tonnes of tarpaulins and 3300 medical kits en route by air to Philippines. Caritas member Catholic Relief Services has purchased 32,000 tarpaulins, of which 5000 have arrived in Cebu. With the arrival in country of tarps and water and sanitation kits, initial distributions will take place within the week.

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Some areas of the Philippines face ‘total ruin’

Credit: Caritas Philippines

Credit: Caritas Philippines

Caritas aid workers say they’re shocked by the scenes of devastation they’re witnessing in the aftermath of a typhoon which struck the Philippines on Friday.

Tacloban City on Leyte has been a focus of attention. Caritas Philippines-NASSA staff member Rey Barnido said, “Patients are overflowing from the regional hospital. There are dead people everywhere. There is no water or power. Volunteers are trying to manage the disaster. It looks as if nuclear bombs were dropped.”

A Caritas Philippines and American Caritas member Catholic Relief Services team arrived in Ormoc on Leyte yesterday and traveled to Palo today. They say roads are filled with debris, most homes are uninhabitable due to damage and shops and other buildings are destroyed.

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines, fears other areas have been hit just as badly. Samar Islands has over 700,000 people. It was the first place the storm made landfall. Hundreds are confirmed dead and thousands are missing. Giporlos and Guiuan are reported to be “totally ruined” and 2,000 are listed as missing in Basey alone.

“We are getting reports from Panay and Biliran that the situation there is very difficult. Houses have been leveled. There are many casualties. They haven’t been reached yet. People lack the basic necessities,” said Fr Gariguez.

Caritas volunteers preparing aid packages in Manila, Philippines for typhoon survivors Credit: Caritas Manila

Caritas volunteers preparing aid packages in Manila, Philippines for typhoon survivors
Credit: Caritas Manila

Caritas agencies are in the process of mobilizing resources to help in the most affected areas. Local Caritas and Church partners have been able to get food to some of the worst hit areas.

CRS has procured 18,000 tarpaulins for shelter,and its other support will include water and hygiene supplies and non-food-item kits for 5,000 families. Cash-for-work community clean up and debris removal area also planned.

Emergency response staff from the Caritas Internationalis General Secretariat in Rome and Caritas members around the world are heading to the Philippines as relief efforts gear up. Caritas organisations around the world have so far pledged €1,435,000

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A refugee remembers Syria

The business of Karim, a shoemaker, was destroyed during bombings in Syria. He, his wife, Zahaya, and their year-old son also lost their home to the violence. The family has been living in this tent in Lebanon since late June 2013. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

The business of Karim, a shoemaker, was destroyed during bombings in Syria. He, his wife, Zahaya, and their year-old son also lost their home to the violence. The family has been living in this tent in Lebanon since late June 2013. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

By Caroline Brennan,

A family photo album. “If only I could see it,” says Zahaya. “Only then could I get the fuller picture.”

Zahaya, 21, is talking about her family and  life in Syria that was so recent—just a year or so ago—that might as well have been another lifetime.

We are sitting in her tent in the summer heat in a growing refugee settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Many refugees have come from their neighbouring tents, and they all want to talk about the Syria they remember. They are taking me back in time—all the way to 2010. They serve coffee, though they have nothing. It is the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, so they are not drinking. They insist and, after some time, there is no way to refuse their offer.

The nostalgia for what Syria was – and the effort to convey that  longing to others – seems to be for so many refugees the last grip on a normal life, to keep themselves from losing their minds. What is happening to their country is simply beyond comprehension. Many of them echo the same message: “We were the country that helped so many people in need. We were the stable ones in the Arab region.” Says Mona, a young woman in the group, “We are humiliated.”

Zahaya keeps referring to the lost family album. It’s not just a book to her—that is clear. It’s not just the loss of something in a move—that can happen to any of us. The album is central to her identity and is now a crucial document in her search for help.

She and her husband, Karim, lived in Ras Al-Ayn, a town near the Turkish border. They were safe for some time during the first year of the civil war in Syria, a conflict that began in March 2011 with a peaceful protest in the south that gradually escalated into a deadly fight for the country. Estimates put the number of people killed in Syria from March 2011 to July 2013 at about 93,000 to 100,000 people. Millions of people have been uprooted inside the country, and at least 1.6 million people having fled into neighboring countries to seek help.

As the indiscriminate violence began to transform sleepy middle-class towns and urban neighborhoods, Zahaya’s family started to feel the creep of danger.

Two events were pivotal to Zahaya’s decision to flee.

Zahaya’s mother, who was suffering from cancer but had already fled to Lebanon when violence engulfed her village, tried to return to Syria for chemotherapy that she couldn’t afford in Lebanon. The bus she was traveling on was hit by a bomb. No one survived. Zahaya still has trouble talking about it today.

Around the same time, Zayaha’s neighborhood started to shake from bombings at night. Community members decided to sleep outside to keep each other safe. One night in April 2013, after waking up, she and her husband walked back to their home and saw that it had been demolished.

“When we saw the house, a house we had worked so hard to physically build, we would have preferred to have died in our house than to see it that way,” Zahaya says. “We had nothing, only the clothes we were wearing. We knew it was time to leave.”

The family tried to go to Turkey, because it was close by, “but even that was too dangerous with bombings and insecurity,” says Zahaya.

So they made their way to Lebanon. Zahaya, Karim and their 1-year old son took several buses and made attempts to cross at three different borders. They were turned away each time because they didn’t have their papers or proof of identity—all destroyed in their house—and because they didn’t have any photos. “No albums?” they were asked when prompted to prove that Zahaya was in fact the mother of her son.

This affront to their identity seems to be the deepest wound many Syrians have endured. Their country is a living nightmare. Their homes and livelihoods are gone. Their families are torn apart. They have nothing to show for everything they lived and worked for.

“It is very difficult to live here in a tent. We live here because we have no money to pay for rent. We have no shower or bath here. We have no running water or electricity,” says Zahaya. “As a mother, it is difficult to manage my family here. Even when I want to bring water to clean clothes, my clothes get dirty with the process of collecting the water.”

The refugee families clutch memories shared in these tents and a hope that they will one day return and rebuild Syria as they remember it. For now, they try to create a semblance of home in another country, in living conditions far below their standards, awaiting news on the safety of loved ones.

“We want all countries around the world to know how we live in this very bad situation,” Zahaya says.” Our children have asthma, illnesses, allergies that we are struggling to care for here. Our life was good before. We were not afraid before.

“Even if I have to live in a tent in Syria, I will go back home the moment it is safe,” she adds.

Her mind goes back to Syria. Without photos of her family to show visitors or to convey what her country means to her, Zahaya hopes that words can do her justice.

“The characteristics of Syrians are generous and helpful. In [previous conflicts in the region] people came to Syria for help. We opened our schools and homes to them. We welcomed them.

“We hope people will be kind to us.”

Editor’s Note: Caritas Lebanon provide critical food, shelter and living supplies to Zahaya and her family. Caroline Brennan is a CRS senior communications officer. She is based in Chicago.

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Recovery efforts after cyclone slams India

Cyclone Phailin swirls over the Bay of Bengal, covering an area larger than France. Creative Commons

Cyclone Phailin swirls over the Bay of Bengal, covering an area larger than France. Creative Commons

Spread of disease is one of the biggest concerns as relief efforts gear up after Cyclone Phailin hit eastern areas of India at the weekend. Initial government estimates estimating 8 million people have been affected and 200,000 to 350,000 homes damaged or destroyed.

Caritas India staff and their local partners are assessing the damage in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa states. Caritas ground personnel say that a majority of the impact is on property, assets, telecommunications and the disruption of the natural environment.

Caritas India says people have started slowly moving back to the villages from cyclone shelters. The water has entered many villages leading to possible hygiene concerns. Efforts are underway to contact laboratory testing units, to ensure outbreak of disease can be controlled.

Prior to the cyclone making landfall, the local government and many aid agencies coordinated the country’s biggest evacuation in 23 years with more than 900,000 people moved from low-lying coastal areas to nearly 250 emergency shelters in schools and government offices. This massive evacuation helped keep reported casualties low thus far.

CRS, the American Caritas member, was involved in the evacuation efforts. John Shumlansky, CRS’ country representative in India, said that, “While reports of casualties are low, we shouldn’t underestimate the scale of this disaster. There are millions of people who will need support to rebuild their homes and livelihoods. CRS, the local Church, our sister Caritas agencies and other partners will work with the government to determine how we can help the poorest families as they begin that process.”

Kirti Mishra, Catholic Relief Services India’s operations manager based in Bhubaneshwar, spent the night in her home about 35 miles from the coast. “This morning when I left my home, it looked so devastating,” she said. “I could see roads blocked with uprooted tree and response teams clearing the roads. Houses made of mud and bamboo were the worst hit and homes in the slums have completely collapsed and roofs are blown away.

“Tomorrow I’ll be in the field helping with assessments and determining how CRS can best help. I’m looking forward to visiting some of the people who we help through long-term development projects and seeing how they fared in the cyclone. Catholic Relief Services and the local Church will walk with them through this emergency and continue the important work we’re doing in our ongoing projects.”

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Syrian refugees helping Syrian refugees in Jordan

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Tehane, a refugee who fled Syria after her home was bombed, now works as a volunteer with Caritas Jordan. Photo by Murad Saidawi/Caritas Jordan

By Caroline Brennan

Along the Syrian border, conversations with refugees from Jordan to Lebanon to Turkey strike a recurring theme: a yearning for the world to see Syrians as they know themselves to be—a hospitable, warm and civilized culture.

The quest by Syrian refugees to hold onto their identity is tangible. You see it in the small grass and rock arrangement that is placed as a centerpiece on the mud floor of a desolate tent. You see it in the care of a mother bathing her daughter each day with a bucket and cloth to keep her clean in the dusty refugee camp, far from the nice home they enjoyed just 10 months ago.

And you see it in the Syrians who are refugees themselves, but who are helping other refugees because “it is part of our culture.”

Like Tahane, a 25-year-old woman from the Syrian city of Homs. Tahane fled Homs in late 2012 when it came under siege by planes and indiscriminate bombing. When she arrived in the Jordanian town of Zarqa, she had nothing: no food, no shelter, no way to earn a living, no answers about what was to come.

“I arrived at Caritas Jordan needing help. But, when I was at the social center, I realized there were people around me who needed even more than I did,” says Tahane.

Caritas Jordan is supporting 140,000 refugees across the country with vital relief and assistance, including urgent food, medical care, hygiene supplies, trauma counseling, and education for children.

Within a few months of arriving in Jordan, Tahane asked Caritas if she could volunteer for them – to help reach out to Syrians who are living in some of the most difficult, inhumane conditions in the area.

Tahane is now part of a three-person Syrian team that visits refugee families who have just fled Syria and arrived Jordan. She meets them wherever they are staying – in tents, as squatters, in crowded apartments with other families.

Most refugees prefer to live outside refugee camps and in many cases they have no choice, as camps have the capacity to accommodate only about a third of the refugee population. Since December 2012, the number of “urban refugees” has more than doubled, with families living in overcrowded conditions with other families in small apartments. These urban refugees often depend on savings, limited work opportunities and the generosity of the host population to survive. Many have experienced trauma, violence and the loss of loved ones.

When Tahane meets them for the first time, her purpose is to let them know that help is available to them, that they are not alone.

“When we show up and they see we are Syrian, they are relieved. They hear our voices, they connect to our stories. We tell them we understand, that we went through this, too,” Tahane says.

Tahane lost all that she had built when her house was demolished by bombs. Thankfully, she and her family survived.

“We were all hiding in my basement and we could hear the planes above us and feel the shaking from the bombs. We grabbed our things and just ran,” she says.

“I can’t explain what it felt like in that moment. We just wanted to make sure the kids were OK. We ran out onto the street and waved the first car to get in and get out. There were many cars passing and carrying the injured…we went in one of those cars to Damascus.”

Tahane listens to families who share stories of grief and loss remarkably similar to her own, showing patience and care as they come to grips with their new reality.

“I can’t forget my first visit. I could cry as I think about it. I could not have imagined that the situation facing other Syrians was worse than my own,” she says. “Those who are newly arrived literally have nothing with them. So anything can help them to start their lives. Every time I visit a new family, I wish I had more to help them.”

Tahane recognizes that, in many ways, helping fellow Syrians helps her, too.

“My volunteering here with Caritas helps me to adapt, to not to forget what I’ve left behind. When I’m helping others, I know I’m helping myself. I might be unable to help Syrians within Syria. But when I am helping a Syrian family here, I am helping Syria in one way or another.”

As the needs dramatically grow for the millions of refugees across the region, more Syrian refugees are part of the humanitarian response to save their brethren.

“What gives me great joy is when I see these families the first time they enter the Caritas Jordan center. They know no one. Then they see me, they see our Syrian volunteer team, they know us and they feel instantly secure.”

Tahane loves her work so much she can’t imagine not doing it. She says one of the first thing she hopes for is that she can work back in Syria to help Syrians when they return to their country and start to rebuild, to recover.

“The difference of where we are from, our economic backgrounds, the things that made us different in Syria-that is not relevant here. We are all refugees. We are all in need of help. We are all the same.”

Caroline Brennan is CRS’ senior communications officer for the emergency response team. This post first appeared on the CRS website.

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