By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith
Five years ago, Miriam and her family left their home in Aleppo, Syria. They walked over 11 hours to get to Maalag, Lebanon, which is not far from the Syrian-Lebanese border. The fear of being killed in the civil war in Syria convinced them to leave. Miriam’s story is much like the stories of all the other mothers I recently visited in Maalag. The stories gave witness to the strong determination and hope of these mothers who have created a new diaspora community for themselves and their young children.
The mothers also shared the positive impact of our Bread for the World partner and my host, International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). IOCC has contributed to the support of this community through their Mother Care Group Health and Nutrition Awareness sessions conducted by IOCC lactation specialists. It is through this program that the mothers are mobilized around the issues of health and nutrition, immunization, and infant and young-child feeding.
Not far from Maalag is Zahle, where I visited a school at which IOCC hosts a nutritious school-snack program as part of its nutrition education project. It is one of 35 public schools hosting over 16,000 students each month. The program is co-hosted by the World Food Programme (WFP). The project includes the development and dissemination of a curriculum on healthy lifestyle habits shared among school children aged 3 to 16. The topics of the nutrition education project include: 1) food sources; 2) the importance of healthy eating; 3) food groups; 4) healthy food choices; and, 5) breakfast and healthy meals. The curriculum was developed in 2017 by IOCC’s technical nutrition team, in accordance with WFP and Lebanon Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE). The guide was based on the “Discovery Learning” concept.
The mothers and children help make up much of the population of 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon today, according to UNHCR reports. Lebanon has the largest number of Syrian refugees per capita. It also hosts an additional 18,500 refugees from Ethiopia, Iraq, Sudan, and other countries, and more than 200,000 Palestinian refugees. While many commend Lebanon for its hospitality, social unrest has also been especially visible in recent months. This has led to a change in government that many hope will advance new possibilities for all people in Lebanon.
IOCC has been an important partner and resource throughout Lebanon. With headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, IOCC is the official humanitarian relief and development agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. Founded in 1992 and guided by its mission to support the social service capacity of the Orthodox Church worldwide, IOCC and its partners are fostering hope with their nutrition education and inspire all of us to be advocates for global nutrition. May our prayerful actions together make it possible for all to be fed with nutritious food no matter the circumstances.
Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.