Tell us about your trip see the Syrian refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley – what’s life like for the mothers and children there?

The Bekaa Valley runs along the border with Syria and whilst it’s unbelievably beautiful, lush and green at this time of year, the numerous army road blocks leave you feeling insecure. Soldiers brandishing machine guns peer out from behind sandbag bunkers checking the traffic as it goes by. The border is so close by and there is of course an element of danger but life goes on as usual. What other option is there?

When you hear of a Refugee Camp you think of a mass of thousands of tents in a fenced off area. We have seen the images on the TV over the years. These camps are nothing like that. Instead where ever you look for a stretch of 50 miles you see little tented settlements – almost like sporadic Romany camps. In some parts of the Valley it seems that every clear verge has a group of tents on. Some of the settlements are a little more formal with up to 100 tents, but most are just in groups of 2 or 3.

In these camps you predominantly find women and children. The men are generally trying to find work, travelling or back in Syria. The women have come here to be safe, but some semblance of life keeps going in across the border and people often travel back and forth depending on how bad the bombing is in their area. When I was there I heard was much concern that the bombing was about to get worse again.

Shoes for Syria – tell us a about this project and how our readers can help. 

We have been collecting hand-me-down garments in our From A Mother To Another annual campaign. We encourage our customers to make up gorgeous gift quality collections of much loved second hand clothes and sort them into outfits by sex, size and season. These packs are them checked and gift packs and have been delivered all year through the Barnardo’s family centres. However, we had enough to take some our to help the Syrian Refugees in Lebanon – so I travelled out two weeks ago loaded down with packs.

The purpose of my ‘holiday’ was to check how we at JoJo could really help. Lots of people want to help but unless you find a reliable distribution network on the ground it is really tricky to reach those most in need. I met up with three charities to try to work out which one we would like to help most. Once I had met them I realised we had to help all three! They are all doing such great work on the ground. The Lebanese also face a huge amount of hardship – imagine ¼ of your population being refugees? This is what has happened and they are not getting enough support. Some of the children have been there for a few years now – they need schools and hospitals, proper shelters and of course, everything else. I asked what I could do right now and was told that winter shoes and boots would be great. The snow is coming and many of the kids have no shoes – at least we can make a tiny difference to these friendly, smiling kids who have already been through so much.

It’s not much, but we are doing what we can. I’ll be going back out soon to make sure the distribution is working well.

X Laura Tenison, Founder & MD, JoJo Maman Bébé 

To find out more about the amazing work Laura and her team are doing, follow Laura Tenison on Twitter.

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