Where the Children Are

A woman invites me into her tent. She shows me around her almost empty ‘house’. A bag of potatoes and a large water container are all her possessions.

Story and Photos by Icarus Blake - icarus.blake@citizenbrooklyn.com

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We are driving up the Bekaa Valley towards the border with Syria. Billboards of Syrian President Assad and Iranian President Ahmadinejad compete with Coke and Seven-Up. This area of Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah, the terrorist group that made it all the way into the Lebanese government. Although, by their beliefs, they should support the Syrian Revolution, they instead sided with Assad. Most weapons and money they receive from Iran are funneled to them through Syria. The fall of the Syrian government would mean a strategical nightmare. And the Southern border with Israel is a gunshot away.

Water Scarcity Photo ©Icarus Blake

The border crossing with Syria, at the end of the Bekaa valley, has been used by Syrian refugees for over a year now. They escape to a country whose government has not permitted the opening of official refugee camps since the disastrous experience with the Palestinians. Up to now, over one hundred and seventy thousand Syrians have crossed the Northern and Southern border with Lebanon. Sixty five thousand are children with a December projection of over ninety thousand. They have to lease land from local landowners, and settle with their own means. Their encampments are comprised of flimsy tents built with billboards, scraps, and potato sacks sewn together. In many cases, toilets are barely more than a hole in the dirt protected by plastic sheets for privacy. We counted over twenty two encampments in a seven mile stretch. This makes it a logistical nightmare for the UN organizations to distribute help.

Billboard Shanty Photo © Icarus Blake

We are now in one of these encampments. Only a few miles away from the Syrian city of Homs, a hotbed of the revolution.

Neo-Advertising Photo © Icarus Blake

Rasha is no more than ten years old. She drops two heavy canisters of water and she stares at me wondering if I am trouble. I raise the camera and take a single shot. She picks up her load and continues on looking down to the ground. Further away, kids play soccer with a deflated ball and shoes that have seen better days. Groups of men gather discussing our presence. Some of them are Syrian rebels that have crossed the border to get rest, medical assistance, or find basic supplies. They blend with the refugees knowing that their presence is not tolerated by Hezbollah.

Underdeveloped Roofing Photo © Icarus Blake

A woman invites me into her tent. She shows me around her almost empty ‘house’. A bag of potatoes and a large water container are all her possessions. A group of kids roam around excited by my arrival, they laugh at their pictures on the camera screen. Grandpa arrives and shows me how fragile and full of leaks the roof is.

Hooverville, Lebanon Photo © Icarus Blake

We are well above five thousand feet and winter is coming. At the first snows these tents will be flattened out and none of these children have winter clothing. My friends at UNICEF tell me that, for now, they can only provide winterization to less than half of these children. Donations and supplies are hard to come by. The international community seems to have forgotten about these people.

A Helping Hand Photo © Icarus Blake

I go outside and the stench of urine fills my nostrils with the cold mountain breeze. A woman stands on top of a barrel and sews her roof together. She gives me a toothless smile. A small child plays half naked at her feet with an empty Seven-Up bottle. An older man gives me a hostile look as I shoot a picture of the woman. I walk towards the cars with hundreds of eyes pointed at my back.

For the Kids Photo © Icarus Blake

It’s getting dark and we have to leave. I look back at the mountains and I see in the future: a deflated soccer ball covered in snow in an empty, lonely field.

Laundry Day Photo © Icarus Blake

If you would like to help the Syrian child refugees, please email us at: icarus@citizenbrooklyn.com and we will direct you to the appropriate organizations.

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