- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

Area charities are responding to the war in Lebanon with humanitarian workers, money and other aid.

The International Rescue Committee, which has a chapter in the District, recently sent six emergency-response workers.

Melissa Winkler, who went to Beirut, said the team is working with Lebanese aid organizations to help displaced people living in schools, parking garages and vacant apartments. The United Nations estimates that 900,000 people have been displaced by the fighting.

“If sanitation and water supplies are not good, you can see outbreaks of disease,” she said. “We’re trying to prevent that from happening.”

Miss Winkler also said the team includes an expert on children and conflict who is helping set up “child-friendly spaces.”

“They are places where children can go and have fun, play and have some structure to their lives,” she said. “It is important to give them a sense of routine and familiarity.”

She said watching the Lebanese people suffer is difficult.

“I have met many people who are normal people leading normal lives, then suddenly there is this incredible interruption,” Miss Winkler said. “People are torn apart from everything that’s familiar. They don’t know what’s going to happen in the future [and] they’re concerned about what will happen to their children.”

Baptist World Aid, an organization based in Falls Church, also sent six medical-emergency workers to Beirut.

Peter Gubser, president of District-based American Near East Refugee Aid, said the group is devoted to economic and social development but shifted its focus to emergency relief when the Israel-Hezbollah crisis began.

Mr. Gubser said the group has long-term staff members — some of whom are U.S. citizens — in Gaza, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan.

The group is providing medicine to the Health Care Society, YMCA of Lebanon and the Zakat Foundation, which distribute supplies to about 500 clinics throughout Lebanon.

Mr. Gubser said the group has donated $2.5 million worth of medicine and plans to spend an additional $3 million.

“There are displaced people in the south of Lebanon, parts of Beirut and in the mountains,” he said. “We focus on where there is the most need.”

The group is also giving “infant-hygiene kits” and daily hot meals to displaced people but faces such difficulties as bomb-damaged roads and gas shortages.

The National Synagogue, in the District, is also helping in the humanitarian-relief effort by collecting money for a hospital in Israel that is treating wounded people, including Israeli soldiers.

The synagogue will host a gathering Sunday to write letters of support and encouragement to Israeli soldiers on the front lines.

Catholic Relief Services officials say they are receiving few donations.

“People look at the news, and they see [the Middle East ] as a helpless part of the world,” said Pat Johns, director for the group’s emergency operations. “Because of that, very little money has come in. It’s not easy to raise funds when people just see the bombs and missiles going every which way and it’s not a very optimistic situation.”

Ayla Kremen contributed to this report.

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