Syria crisis: what’s it like to live without light?

Nick Harrop - CAFOD World News Officer
Nick Harrop


Four years since the start of the Syria crisis, Nick Harrop, CAFOD’s World News Officer, looks at what life is like for those living in Syria.

“I am worried for my children,” says a mother who fled to Lebanon. “They need to get an education. But I don’t feel safe to go home. Sadly I feel there is no future for my children in Syria now.”

“For four years, we have been living in the depths of the cold in a bloody war,” says a CAFOD partner delivering aid in Syria. “War has left us without any way to defend ourselves against the cold. We have no electricity most of the time, no fuel and no gas. We have no way to stay warm apart from putting on many layers of clothes, which don’t help so much when it’s minus eight degrees.”

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“We used to have a home and a settled life,” says a father who has fled to a refugee camp in Jordan. “Our children went to school each day. But now…” – he shakes his head – “there is nothing left.”

How the crisis started

It is four years since a small group of demonstrators staged a protest against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Within days, the protests spread, and several people were killed. It was a serious political crisis, and a significant moment in the so-called Arab Spring, but few would have imagined that it would turn into the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the twenty-first century. Continue reading “Syria crisis: what’s it like to live without light?”

Building a future after Myanmar’s biggest natural disaster

By Mark Chamberlain, Communications Officer

Martin - emergency drill - Myanmar - DRR CAFOD (2)
Martin, Myanmar

Martin was six when his small bamboo home in Myanmar’s southwestern jungle was blown away by a terrifying 145mph tropical storm.

I ask him what he remembers most from that night and the small, talkative boy is quiet for a few seconds, then smiles nervously: “I couldn’t hear other people calling out or crying, I could just hear the screaming voice of the wind.”

In minutes, houses where generations of people had lived were snatched from the ground and splintered across the land. Essentials like food, money and clothes were thrown into the nearby river and for miles across the land. Countless people were killed. In one village down the river, one out of every two were taken by the wind.

“It was dark and the wind was all around,” Martin says of that Friday in 2008. “My dad picked me up from our home and ran and ran. We didn’t know where to go or where to hide, but we went to the school.”

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Myanmar – the country formerly known as ‘Burma’ – faces small, localised cyclones every year. But nothing on the scale of Cyclone Nargis. Martin’s family, like many others in the village, ran in that May darkness, but they didn’t know where to or what to do when they arrived at their destination. Rebecca Murphy, CAFOD’s disaster risk reduction expert says: “This is the key moment when the initial effects of a disaster can be managed. So many lives can be saved just by ensuring a community has access to an early warning system, knows where to go and what to do when a cyclone hits.” Continue reading “Building a future after Myanmar’s biggest natural disaster”

Lent 2015: How to prepare for a disaster

By Nick Harrop, World News Officer

“The wind was circulating fast and glass was flying everywhere,” says Flora Badanoy, 39. “The roof was blown off by the gale. It felt like there was an earthquake. We were terrified. Then the hwater started coming in, with a strong current. We opened the front door and more water came gushing in. I thought it was the end of our lives.”

The Guiuan peninsula in the Philippines was the very first place to be hit by Typhoon Haiyan, shortly after midnight on 8 November 2013. Winds of up to 170 mph struck the coast and huge waves swept in from the sea, flooding coastal villages like Flora’s.

Palo, Leyte Island, Philippines - devastation after Typhoon Haiyan
Devastation in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan

“We were not expecting it to be a special typhoon,” says Flora. “The local officials told us we had to evacuate, but they didn’t say it would be so powerful. We were not warned that there would be floods. We’d heard there would be a ‘storm surge’, but we didn’t understand what the phrase meant. It wasn’t a phrase we used in our language.”

Help people like Flora whose lives are being affected by storms, droughts and floods.

Flora remembers the roar of the wind – so loud that she couldn’t hear herself shout – and the terror her children felt as water came flooding in under the door. Continue reading “Lent 2015: How to prepare for a disaster”

Lent: a time for compassion

By Rachel McCarthy, Theology Programme Communications Coordinator

Kyin Nu, Myanmar - cyclones and extreme weather

The season of Lent is fast upon us. It is time to prepare for the traditional acts of giving, praying and fasting, as we journey with Jesus through 40 days and nights.

Lent is a season of reflection and renewal. A time of growing in faith and looking deeper at our lives to be re-centred on God and our neighbour. A time to deepen our prayer life and to grow in faith. A time of giving and sharing with our global family.

Use our Lenten calendar to guide you through the daily scriptures of Lent.

Fasting during Lent

And then there is fasting. We might give something up such as chocolate, and we make a special effort on Fridays to abstain from the goods we usually take for granted. A few times I have fasted for 24 hours during Lent. Last year for example, I fasted in solidarity with people in the UK who are living on the breadline and are forced every week to go to food banks to feed their families.

I have to admit, for me, fasting is never easy. Although food poverty is an issue close to my heart, I found it very difficult to stay focused during these 24 hours. I found myself being more tired and irritable with others around me. I was tempted to winge, to draw attention to myself, in the hope that others would feel sorry for me.

But this is precisely the temptation which we must avoid. In the long hours of our fasting, we must wrestle with our demons, and stay focused on God. In a very real sense, fasting is the act of emptying ourselves, so that we can turn away from all that separates us from loving God. It’s a time of trial, when we rekindle patience and hope for the resurrection. Continue reading “Lent: a time for compassion”

Forging peace in South Sudan

By John Ashworth, adviser to the Sudan and South Sudan churches

South Sudan sank into civil war in December 2013, less than three years after gaining independence. This latest civil war is often described as a political power struggle which soon morphed into ethnic conflict.

However, it might be more accurate to say ‘revenge-driven’ rather than ‘ethnic’. The lack of a reconciliation process to address the hurts of earlier conflicts has only exacerbated the thirst for revenge. The peace talks led by the regional grouping IGAD in Ethiopia’s capital Addis are attempting to address the political component; but who will address the cycle of revenge?

Bibiana - refugee camp, Juba, South Sudan
Bibiana Okong lives in the safety of a camp on the outskirts of Juba. She fled to the camp after one of her sons was accused of being a government soldier and was killed.

‘People to People’ – bringing communities together

In the 1990s, during an earlier conflict which also exhibited ethnic revenge dynamics, the churches created an innovative People to People Peace Process which brought warring communities together again. Aid agencies such as CAFOD played a major role as partners in supporting the original People to People Peace process, working with and through the Church at the grassroots to build peace at a local level in communities. The lessons learnt from this process can contribute to resolving the current conflict.

Please donate to support vulnerable communities in South Sudan

These days the term ‘People to People’ seems to be bandied about by anyone who wants to raise funds for their own particular peace and reconciliation conference. However, People to People was not primarily about conferences; it was about months and indeed years of patient preparation, mobilisation, awareness-raising, consultation and trust-building on the ground before the high-profile conferences took place. Bringing a few chiefs and elders together for a highly-visible quick-fix conference is not ‘People to People’. Continue reading “Forging peace in South Sudan”