Is it worth it?

Is it worth it? Is it all making any difference? Why keep trying? So often we can feel that the effort we are putting into a relationship, a project, or a long-held dream isn’t having the impact we’ve hoped for. When costly investment and hope sometimes seem to yield only disappointment and pain, why should we bother to keep going?

UntitledWhile the resources available to meet the needs of Syrian children are rapidly diminishing (this month the UN are cutting in half the monthly food allowance for refugee families in Lebanon from $26 to $13), the statistics on the war in Syria have now grown beyond anything we can fully comprehend. It’s difficult to imagine a thousand children, let alone more than 5 million. So instead let’s try to picture just one child. A five year old girl called Naima.*

Displaced from their home to a village just outside one of Syria’s most conflict-affected areas, Naima’s family are struggling to meet their basic needs. Naima is one of 240 children who each week attend a child friendly space (CFS) – it’s a safe place where she can play, learn, have fun and spend time with a team of young leaders who care about her and want the best for her.

Every day when the children arrive at the CFS, the team leader, Samir, greets each child with a smile and a handshake. But  each time Naima would refuse to shake hands, and wouldn’t meet his eyes. During her time at the CFS each week, Naima wouldn’t say a word.

Samir told me that much of the time, his team feel discouraged and that they are having little impact in the lives of the children they care for. Children whose behaviour was difficult to manage at the start is still difficult to manage. There’s so much the team can’t change about the circumstances in which the children live, in this insecure location not far from Homs and with IS not far away on the other side.

The surveys we have done with the parents of the children in the CFS which I analysed in April indeed showed that children are struggling. The answers given score each child on a number of different scales including emotional and behavioural difficulties. Where a child was not struggling in an area, the corresponding box on my spreadsheet would stay white; orange indicated a slight problem, and darker red a much more serious problem. The results below are part of the responses for 10-15 year old boys, who were struggling the most – the high levels of orange or red boxes seemed to show that the team were right – the children they are working with really are having a lot of difficulties.

is it worth it pre1

But on my visit to Lebanon this time, I was handed a new pack of completed surveys – this time from parents of displaced Syrian children in another (safer) area where there is no child friendly space, for comparison. I couldn’t believe the results I was typing, as more and more boxes turned the very darkest red, indicating that the vast majority of the children have very severe difficulties and are not coping with life. It was hard not to burst into tears at my desk remembering that these boxes represent real children.

Is it worth it 1

While we shouldn’t infer too much from this one piece of data, I began to think about how much worse the situation of the children might be without the work of the child friendly space team. Although they feel that they aren’t having enough impact, it seemed to me that in fact their impact might be enormous; that in some way they are holding back or dispelling the darkness around them.

It reminded me of these verses from Isaiah 58:

If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

Or in the Message version:

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

 Samir’s whole face lit up as he told me that after several months, finally, Naima shook his hand, looked him in the eye and smiled. A seemingly small change that in reality is life-altering.

So for us, in those big and small things that we know deep down are the right things to do and to keep on doing, even where we feel like we’re not making a difference, or seeing results, or seeing the transformation we long for, let’s keep going. It might not be easy or comfortable, and it might not be safe. But even in the most insecure environment, because of his commitment to these children, Samir was able to honestly tell me, ‘This is my dream job…  These are the best days of my life.’

Let’s allow our lives to glow in the dark too.

Read more about the CFS story at http://www.lsesd.org/Default.asp?PN=%27News2%27&SubP=%27DNewsStory%27&gn=0&DivisionID=0&DepartmentID=0&SubDepartmentID=0&NewsID=75442&ShowNav=&StoryGroup=Current

Read more about the CFS story at http://www.lsesd.org/Default.asp?PN=%27News2%27&SubP=%27DNewsStory%27&gn=0&DivisionID=0&DepartmentID=0&SubDepartmentID=0&NewsID=75442&ShowNav=&StoryGroup=Current

*All names have been changed.

Leaving the helmet behind

Written in February 2014

Today I had to fill in a form asking for ‘proof of life’ questions. Not having seen the Russell Crowe movie of the same name, it was left to google to unceremoniously inform me that these are questions that my organisation will ask my kidnappers during negotiations to work out whether I am alive or dead.

In reality, my impending move to Beirut is not really all that dangerous – incidents are rare and I think for most people life is pretty normal. But even thinking about answering that question as a formality rang alarm bells in my mind. Is it really a sensible choice to move to a city where bombs explode regularly, and a country whose porous borders offer only superficial protection from the Syrian conflict which rages all around it?

SDC15019Most of the time, our impulse is to make sure that we do whatever we can to stay safe, and usually that’s not a bad idea! I’m really glad that I decided to buy a motorbike helmet before I moved to Kampala – while travelling around the city is always pretty risky, it feels good to know that my head is at least slightly protected!

FCO 301 - Lebanon Travel Advice Ed16 [WEB]The travel advice maps on the FCO website also help to feed into our desire to draw lines around what is safe and what is unsafe. It’s reassuring to think that you could stay in the green area forever and never let your feet cross over into yellow, and certainly not red, and then danger cannot touch you.

But the reality is that people move, things change, and the lines of ‘safety’ in our lives are not fixed, however much we would like them to be.

I constantly have to challenge my assumption that I have a right to live a life which is safe and comfortable. While it’s comforting to think that we could spend a whole lifetime avoiding risk, that’s just not what life’s like, and it’s certainly not what God tells us life will be like if we decide to live it with him.

In fact, I think that the real danger is found in trying too hard to stay safe – in missing out on living the life you’re called to and being the person you’re called to be, because it involves risk and uncertainty and things you can’t know and control. As I move to Lebanon for the next six months I don’t know for sure that I can do what’s being asked of me or whether things will go according to plan, but I know that the danger of not even trying is, for me, much more frightening.

In the midst of all the uncertainty, one thing I am confident about is the fact that children should be safe. When I read the Bible, the message that children are a priority to God and that he wants them to be valued and kept safe flows through the pages and should spill out into the way we live our lives.

I don’t know whether I’m going to be safe in Lebanon or not. But I hope that at least some of what I do will help some children there – children who don’t have the luxury of choosing not to be in the yellow or red areas, children who are still across the border in Syria, children who have known a lack of safety beyond what I can imagine – to be really safe and to be able to live the lives they are meant to live.

So I’ll be leaving my helmet behind and trusting that simply doing your best to be who you are in the place you’re called to, is really the safest place to be.