Two young volunteers from Newcastle and Sheffield have travelled with CAFOD to meet refugees in Lebanon. Leah Fox, 19, and Ryan Wilkinson, 18, travelled over 3,000 miles in October to meet the charity's partners in Lebanon. The volunteers met refugees who have been forced to leave their homes because of conflict in Syria, Iraq and Palestine.
Leah spent a year volunteering with the Youth Ministry Team in Hexham and Newcastle; she is now studying for a Primary Education degree. Ryan has spent the past two years taking part in CAFOD's young leadership development scheme with All Saints Catholic Secondary School, Sheffield, and currently works at Savio House, the Salesian residential retreat centre in Bollington.
Whilst in Lebanon, the pair visited CAFOD partners Caritas Lebanon and Association Najdeh.
Caritas Lebanon centres across Lebanon are places where refugee children and young people can learn, socialise and integrate into Lebanese society whilst also discussing their experiences and some of the challenges they face as refugees.
Association Najdeh works to address the challenges of the protracted Palestinian refugee crisis in Lebanon, supporting both Palestinian refugees from Lebanon and those who have more recently fled conflict in Syria. The Association also supports Palestinian women to gain employment and advocate for their rights, as well as providing psychosocial support projects for children and young people.
Ryan said: "We have been able to talk to young people, and learn about their lives, and share messages of solidarity from people in the UK. Association Najdeh is doing some amazing work in the children's psychosocial support projects, women's support groups and the youth training centre.
"I've learnt so much and it has really helped me to become more aware of the refugee situation in Lebanon as well as the world."
When meeting the refugees, Leah and Ryan shared messages of hope and welcome from CAFOD supporters in the UK. The refugee messages are part of a campaign led by the Catholic charities CAFOD, CSAN and the Jesuit Refugee Service. So far, aid agency CAFOD has received over 17,000 messages of hope from Catholics of all ages in schools, parishes and communities.
Leah and Ryan have been working with children and young people to help them better understand the plight of refugees. Leah represented the young people she worked with at a visit to the Houses of Parliament, sharing messages with their MPs and called for more action to support refugees. Leah was also part of the London Refugees Welcome march, where over 10,000 people marched across London to show solidarity with refugees.
In March 2017, Leah and Ryan have been invited to share their experiences from Lebanon with thousands of young people at Wembley Arena next March for the next Catholic Youth Ministry Federation event. They hope that by sharing their story, they will encourage young people across England and Wales to take further action in solidarity with refugees.
If you would like more information about the CAFOD youth leadership programme, email: firstname.lastname@example.org