It was a bustling week at work this past week. In part because there was a lot going on with my own programs—meetings for our job placement office and a graduation for our adult ed program—but also because it was the first week in months that we had food parcels to distribute again!
And so the cathedral (where our office is along with a few others) was chock-a-bloc with people each day week. Because we haven’t had food to give out for many months, the people who had slips to redeem for food parcels (each containing rice, lentils, oil, fortified milk for families with small kiddos, and a few other bits) came flocking. And there were so many people. On Thursday someone said something like 300 people, and at one point I saw one of our staff taking information in the middle of a circle at least 12 people thick all around. A diabetic woman fainted in our office, and more than one person broke down in tears. It was a massively intense day.
A bit of added irony was that also this week I had a meeting with a large implementing agency, the ones who are theoretically managing aid and assistance to the refugees in this city (and elsewhere). It was an incredibly frustrating meeting as usual. It was a meeting for all the organizations in the city that run livelihoods programs. I.E. programs that give refugees skills, jobs, and help them provide for themselves.
Most of the meeting was spent discussing the survey they’d done with all of the refugees in this country this year. It’s not the first time this has been a point of agenda at one of these meetings, and each time someone has brought up how the survey has massive flaws. It does a horrible job of identifying the most vulnerable among refugees like the disabled and ones with chronic, debilitating sicknesses. This was brought up again and the reply was, “Well, the people who are doing the surveys aren’t doctors and they can’t verify peoples claims about their condition.”
Based on their (botched) survey this year they said openly that they’ve been cutting approximately 10,000 refugees per month from cash assistance. They’re currently giving assistance to something like 90,000 Syrian refugees, and less than 9,000 African and Iraqi refugees. The African and Iraqis number includes Sudanese, South Sudanese, Libyans, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and others. Less than 9,000.
For some context, the same organization itself estimates there are over 180,000 refugees in this country. That number is on the low end of the estimate – it basically counts the ones currently going through the formal process for help, which is only a small percentage, for a whole host of reasons. Some people estimate there are 2 million refugees here. So out of those–9,000 and 90,000.
Not just low numbers, but in terms of actual assistance, that support takes the form of a stipend that depends on where you’re fleeing from: Syrians get 300LE/person/month (approx. $38), and Africans and Iraqi’s get 200LE/person/month (approx. $ 25) It’s better than nothing, and I understand the constraints. But it feels like little more than a token, and it’s for so few.
The meeting finished and I walked back to our compound with 200 or so African refugees with identify cards in hand issued by the aforementioned organization, probably representing some of those who’ve had their assistance cut, to access food that they and their kiddos desperately need.
I stood outside for a little bit with Mama M (a refugee lady I work with whom I love dearly), as we do sometimes for a few minutes in the afternoon. She commented how the people weren’t behaving well and didn’t appreciate what they were getting.
I get where she was coming from. And I’ve felt like that before. Working with the boys in my desert home and with the girls in South Sudan and now in our office sometimes. It’s frustrating when people don’t appreciate the help they’re getting and demand more or claim it’s not enough.
I was thinking about this attitude of entitlement and especially in the context of these food bags. As I was thinking about it occurred to me that, well, they are entitled.
They are children of God, and whether they claim that title or not, to us as believers they are made by our maker and in his image and for that reason alone they are entitled. They are entitled to enough when I have excess. They are entitled to basic nutrition when I am well fed. They are entitled to clothing when my closet overflows.
And while the attitude of those on the receiving end can be really annoying (and I’m sure the attitudes of those of us on the giving end can be equally annoying at times…) who cares! Because in Luke 3 John instructs to give extra food when a brother has none. And to give away an extra tunic when there is someone without one.
An attitude of entitlement is quite well founded when God has provided on this planet enough resources for each person to have their daily needs met, and yet people go without because other people operate in a lifestyle of consistent excess. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m one of those people.
And when I look at my two coats that I bought or were given to me, I can’t keep looking at them like they are mine. Because if I was on the other side of that equation—a person without a coat—and I read these words in Luke, I’d be really annoyed with the other believer who was reading these words too and put their extra coat away in a closet, or threw away food that went bad in their fridge because they bought too much again. Perhaps I am the one that needs to adjust my attitude of entitlement instead.
“The gift of God and the voices of hunger that haunt us urge us beyond the established certitudes of our guilds and beyond the stabilities of old church truths. They push us, all of us, back to the fundamentals of daily bread that cannot be stored, lest it turns foul and breeds worms.” Walter Bruggemann