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Helping refugee families bundle up

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Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam Leila Silka, 5, holds a bag of winter clothes that were just purchased by her mother, Kawser, with a $40 voucher provided by Oxfam and a local partner organization. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

If there’s one thing that makes winter weather feel even worse, it’s not being properly dressed for the cold. I remembered this recently when I was caught unprepared by a snowstorm during a visit to New York City. Without my usual winter layers, I felt the chill and wind much more acutely. Luckily, I found an affordable coat at a secondhand store; when I put it on, I sighed with relief as warmth enveloped me at last.

Right now, staying warm is essential not only in the US, where a polar vortex has dropped temperatures to sub-freezing in much of the country, but in Lebanon, where nearly one million refugees from the conflict in Syria are facing cold temperatures, rain, and even snowstorms. Families are already shivering through the winter in tents, unheated shelters, and other tough living conditions. Many fled their homes with little or no possessions, and now lack the means to buy warm clothes to bundle up against the chill.

“The clothes in Lebanon are so expensive I can’t afford to buy them for my children,” said Kawser Silka, 23, whose family of five people shares a single 10-by-13-foot room in a building inhabited by 12 other refugee families. This living situation has become a problem in winter, she explained: “It’s too cold. We don’t have stoves or any heaters and the windows are not fixed.”

Kawser Silka, 23, a mother of three from near Idlib in Syria, holds her son Abdul Brahim, 2. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam
Kawser Silka, 23, a mother of three from near Idlib in Syria, holds her son Abdul Brahim, 2. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

To help some of the most vulnerable families in Lebanon survive the cold, Oxfam is distributing cash and vouchers to 11,900 refugees so they can buy plastic sheeting, heating stoves, fuel, blankets, and warm clothing. The support will benefit about 59,500 people.

Among them are families in Qalamoun, north Lebanon, including Silka’s, who in late December received $40 vouchers from Oxfam’s local partner organization JAK. Families used the vouchers to buy coats, sweaters, and more to help their kids stay warm in the winter months. Silka said this is the first time she has been able to give her three children new clothes since they came to Lebanon a year ago.

Froua Yousef, 9, wears new clothes that her mother, Enaam, has just bought for her with a $40 voucher supplied by Oxfam, with the assistance of partner agency JAK, in Qalamoun, north Lebanon. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam
Froua Yousef, 9, wears new clothes that her mother, Enaam, has just bought for her with a $40 voucher supplied by Oxfam, with the assistance of partner agency JAK, in Qalamoun, north Lebanon. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Giving people vouchers that they can spend themselves, rather than handing out clothes, empowers families to make their own choices about what to buy—a privilege that many of us sometimes take for granted. Enaam Yousef, 40, told Oxfam that it had been a welcome change to be able to choose the clothes she wanted for once, instead of hoping that relatives in Syria could buy clothes and send them to her.

“I’m a widow of 14 years and my daughter is too young to work,” said Yousef. “If nobody helped me, who could support this family? No one.”

Oxfam is on the ground in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, delivering life-saving essentials, and we’re making great progress thanks to our supporters. Overall, we’re helping a half-million people affected by the Syria crisis across Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Join us today.

 

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