AKRON, Pa. — Since the Syrian war began five years ago in March, Mennonite Central Committee has spent about $34.6 million to relieve the suffering of Syrians, Iraqis and people in neighboring countries who have been impacted by violence. It is the organization’s largest response ever.
The war has caused trauma, homelessness and hunger among 11 million Syrians who have been forced from their homes and prevented many children from continuing their education.
The upheaval has stirred ethnic and religious tensions in Syria and neighboring countries, including Iraq. The conflict spilled into Iraq in 2014, increasing the number of displaced people there to 3.3 million — a total that includes those forced from their homes by the U.S. invasion in 2003 and other conflicts.
MCC has responded to the vast, ongoing need in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan with the largest financial response in its 96 years of existence — larger than the response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake or the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
“This is the largest humanitarian crisis in a generation,” said MCC director of disaster response Bruce Guenther. “The world is grappling with the highest number of displaced persons ever recorded — more than 60 million people — with about a quarter of them from Syria and Iraq.”
MCC’s response was made possible through individual donations of money, blankets and relief, hygiene, newborn and school kits totaling about $10.6 million.
MCC also used $14.8 million from its account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to support food projects and $9.2 million in grants and matching funds from the Canadian government.
“In this protracted crisis, MCC has been able to respond effectively because we have worked in the region for many years,” Guenther said. “We have strong relationships and trust with partners who have tremendous capacity to deliver humanitarian relief to people most in need.”
During the last winter, MCC supplied heaters and fuel, winter clothing and blankets, in addition to its ongoing food, shelter and educational projects. Another MCC priority is addressing religious tensions and community conflicts that have been exacerbated by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Through a $400,000 grant from the Canadian government’s Office of Religious Freedom, MCC’s partners taught conflict resolution, promoted cross-cultural and cross-religious dialogue and supported cooperation among diverse groups.
A Syrian church worker, who helped distribute MCC’s supplies but who did not want to be identified for security reasons, said the supplies are important not just because of the need they meet but the message they carry.
“We believe that despite all the bad things going on and all the evil, our world is still so beautiful and still has so [much] good in it,” he said. “People feel that goodness when they receive all the help that came from outside Syria because they feel there are people out there who are actually thinking about them.
“Even the smallest aid that came to them is so appreciated. You can see the happiness in their eyes when they saw that we were giving them that [item] because it came with love. That’s the most important thing.”
As the crisis drags on and needs increase, Guenther encourages people to continue to give to MCC’s Syria and Iraq crisis response.
“While MCC assists with resettlement of Syrians in Canada, we know that millions more Syrians and Iraqis want to stay near home if they can have access to enough support to sustain themselves,” he said. “We want to be God’s messenger of love and compassion to those in need.”