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April 11, 2018

Earlier this afternoon, a Trump tweet announced that Russia should “get ready” for a missile attack on its ally Syria, in response to a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town near Damascus over the weekend.

Reports from organizations on the ground claim that 500 people were affected when aircraft said to be linked to the Syrian government sprayed toxic chemicals on the town.

Trump’s actions look set to pour further fuel on the fire of the civil war in Syria, which is already the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. People have been forced to flee their homes and businesses to escape the hail of bombs and bullets. Leaving behind everything they know, they’re in immediate need of shelter, food, and safety.

ActionAid has been working with Syrian refugees since 2013. We’ve supported local Syrian organizations working on the ground, and we continue to provide food, shelter, and blankets, as well as long term support for refugees, in neighboring countries.

Last year, my colleague Marie visited some of ActionAid’s work in Lebanon and met some of the amazing Syrian women refugees who are preparing to build a new Syria – one where women’s rights are respected and protected.

ActionAid has been operational in Lebanon since 2010, working with young people and supporting them to solve problems within their communities. Our staff are from Lebanon’s Bakaa Valley – that’s the same area where the work takes place.

When the Syrian crisis started pushing Syrians across the border into the Bakaa Valley, these young people built two community centers, one of which is only 15 minutes from the border. The center serves young women and girls ages 14 to 35 and has a community space, classrooms for trainings, child care for the young mothers, and computers for the refugees to use.

Forced to pay high costs for healthcare in Lebanon, many of the women are keen to get information on contraception. With high demand for this training for women refugees, ActionAid hired Raimaa, who had been a community health provider in Syria and is a refugee herself, to lead classes for the women.

Our Lebanese team is also providing job training for the refugees so they can chart their own pathways to economic empowerment and recovery. Through setting up their own small businesses, they’re building a sense of community and safety for Syrians in Lebanon.

With no sign of a let up in hostilities, and with more and more people experiencing pain and loss because of the violence, the safe spaces that the community centers provide are really important. Here, they can understand their rights and prepare for the day when they can return home and rebuild their own communities.

** This post was updated at 10 PM on April 11, 2018. **