Caring group in Wirksworth helping victims of war-torn Syria

The problems of people in war-ravaged countries in the Middle East might seem a world away from the day-to-day lives of residents in a Derbyshire Dales market town.

But not so in Wirksworth, where caring campaigners are making a huge difference to victims of the terrifying conflict in Syria.

To young refugees, including children, who have escaped to neighbouring countries Iraq and Lebanon, and to young mothers who have lost their husbands and their homes during the long period of violence.

For 11 months now, the Wirksworth and District Christian Aid Committee has been at the heart of a radically new communmity partnership, supporting key voluntary projects with Syrian refugees in Iraq and Lebanon.

It has been committed to raising more than £5,000, which is being match-funded six times to one by a German aid organisation, and it has set an ambitious target to do even more in 2020.

All the money is being used to help rebuld the lives of the refugees, providing education for youngsters and offering new skills for widows, so they can find work to help look after their families.

Peter Lewis, of the Christian Aid group, said: “In the coming months, we hope to go beyond our original fundraising target and draw in the additional money that would increase it to £8,000 which, multiplied by six, would add up to almost £50,000.

“Fundraising in the New Year and the spring will make a big difference and help people on the margins of a long and terrible war.”

The Syrian conflict has triggered the biggest displacement of people this century. Half of the population have had to leave their homes.

At the last count, 6.5 million people were displaced inside Syria, while millions more have fled across borders.

Both Iraq and Lebanon are trying desperately to offer shelter and support, but their own economies are already strained by previous conflicts and a history of hosting displaced people.

Christian Aid is a national charity that works in dozens of countries, helping people, regardless of their religion or race.

It has teamed up with partners in Iraq and Lebanon to strengthen the resilience and social cohesion of those affected.

This is being achieved through education, psychological support and creating openings for jobs.

The unusual aspect about the whole scheme is that individual communities in the UK are being linked up with specific projects and pledging fixed amounts of support.

The Wirksworth group was chosen to work with projects in the cities of Kirkuk and Tikrit in Iraq and Beirut in Lebanon.

In Iraq, the work involves supporting 18-to-35-year-old refugees who are unemployed, or have limited working experience, and helping them set up small businesses by providing training and start-up kits.

In Lebanon, it entails the running of eight centres to provide support for about 1,280 children, and their parents or caretakers.

This amounts to schooling in core subjects such as maths, science and English, as well as transport to and from the centres, accompanied by a social worker. Financial help is also given to attend school or buy supplies.

Members of the Wirksworth group receive regular feedback, and have heard reports of amazing progress in both Iraq and Lebanon.

For example, young adults such as Mahmood has been taught skills to set up his own company in Kirkuk. Now, like many other refugees helped by Christian Aid, he is able to support his family.

Single mum Shaimaa Mohamed Mahmoud has also benefited from Wirksworth’s generosity. Her husband was killed in an Isis attack in 2015, leaving her to bring up four children on her own.

For many years, her life was hard, with no income and no support. But now, she has received training a hairdresser and runs a salon. Her life has been transformed.

Elsewhere, 13-year-old Nadima moved to Beirut with her 16-year-old brother when their dad died in Syria four years ago. Since attending one of the Christian Aid centres, her schoolwork has improved dramatically and she feels empowered to build a career and a future for herself.

Tom Wyke, Christian Aid’s regional co-ordinator for Derbyshire, said: “It’s so inspiring to see how the Wirksworth group have made such a positive impact.

“These community partnerships are a fantastic way to connect closely with individual projects and hear the positive stories of change that donations are having.”