BEIRUT — The Good Shepherd Sisters have been working in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley for 11 years. They opened an after-school care program to help the children of Deir-Al-Ahmar, near Baalbek. The area was under the control of Hezbollah and was known for production, and consumption of, hashish.
After Sunni Muslim refugees from Syria began pouring into the valley in 2011, Deir-Al-Ahmar had more refugees than Lebanese residents. So the sisters put their center to use to help the Syrian children, too. Currently, 330 Syrian refugee children attend an informal school during the day. Later in the day, the Lebanese children come for their after-school program.
Working with aid from groups like Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Caritas Australia, the sisters are helping 175 families of six to 15 people every month. They offer food packages that contain basics such as rice, cooking oil, lentils and milk, as well as tents, heaters, diesel fuel, blankets and, for the children, clothes. The sisters also help the refugees try to find jobs.
Davide Bernocchi, CRS country representative for Lebanon and Jordan, noted that the increase in refugees so close to the border with Syria is making many of the refugees feel unsafe.
“If the sisters were not there, you would have major conflict in that area,” he told CRS Egan Fellows on a recent visit to Beirut.
Good Shepherd Sister Micheline Lattouf, director of the center, said sometimes she fears some of the refugees will be in contact with Islamic State fighters. She said she keeps “open eyes” and stays in contact with police.
“Sometimes I’m afraid,” she admitted, but said she is a Good Shepherd sister and cannot close the door to people in need.
She said people tell her she could be killed for working with Syrian refugees.
“I have a mission, and I continue my mission,” she said. “If they kill me, it’s not a problem … Maybe another sister … will have the courage to continue the mission.”
“Oscar Romero, he was killed by a Christian, not a Muslim,” she added, noting the Salvadoran archbishop’s work for justice and peace.
“If I will be killed because I work with the refugees — maybe the world today needs another Oscar Romero.”