“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
It’s been more than two years now since I sat in the office of our partner’s education centre in Lebanon and met 13-year-old Elaf and her aunt; refugees from Syria.
My most vivid memory from that day was watching Elaf – tearful – pick apart the tissue she held in her hands as her aunt recalled the desperation of a war that had led to their flight from Syria to a sanctuary of sorts in Lebanon.
This week, as world leaders meet in London to pledge financial support to meet the needs of millions of Syrians affected by the civil war, my thoughts once again go to Syrians like Elaf. Where is she now, I wonder? And what does her life look like?
I came to London and joined the communications team at Christian Aid three years ago, at the time of the second anniversary of the Syrian conflict. Since then my own life has grown and flourished. I’ve been able to build a life in London, develop and nurture new friendships and a relationship, study, travel, and hope.
But what of Elaf and the other 4.5 million Syrian refugees, or the 13.5 million people displaced within a country torn apart by war? What of their lives, and their opportunities to grow and flourish?
Thinking about the refugees, I was reminded of the proverb above. Our lives are centred on hope. Hopes we have for our loved ones and our relationships, our dreams and aspirations, our health and happiness, and for our communities. When those hopes and desires are fulfilled, our lives flourish and we flourish, too.
On that trip to Lebanon two years ago, I met Syrians who at that time still dared to hope. They hoped for their children’s educations to be restored. They hoped to return to homes left in haste. They hoped for an end to the bombings and the killings. They hoped to never again see what they had seen, and they hoped for peace.
I’m reminded of Elaf’s aunt’s hopes at that time: “That we will be able to go back,” she told me. “I don’t think that it is going to be very soon, but in the end we will.” I find myself wondering when the end might be, and for how much longer Syrians will be forced to endure the deferment of hope. How many more children’s opportunities for education must be suspended, how many more relationships must buckle under the strain of bereavement, unemployment, trauma or uncertainty? How many more lives must be lost? How much more sickness can a heart endure?
It would seem, for some, that hope has finally been exhausted. In Serbia, I met a Syrian refugee who told me: “All the relationships in the community [have been] destroyed due to the war. Nothing is as it was. Everyone is sad. There is no happiness…no happiness at all.”
So as world government leaders gather in London, seeking to pledge financial support to Syria and the region, I wonder what it would take to restore even a little bit of hope.
One can imagine that Syrians would like an end to the bombings, a ceasefire, an end to the targeting of schools and hospitals, and an assurance that aid can reach all those in need. In neighbouring countries, Syrian refugees tell us that they would like to be able to study and work, to live with dignity, and to be able to provide for themselves and their families.
My prayer is that this would be an opportunity for those in power to make changes that will help Syrians to reinvest in hope; to hope that one day soon this will all be over, and their desires may be fulfilled.