Farnhill's Maggie 'scared' by relief mission

Aid worker Maggie Tookey, of Farnhill, talks about her experience in a refugee camp in Syria

Aid worker Maggie Tookey, of Farnhill, talks about her experience in a refugee camp in Syria

First published in News

Aid worker Maggie Tookey – who has just returned from Lebanon where thousands of people are seeking refuge from the fighting in Syria – doesn’t claim to be brave.

But she admits her latest venture to the Middle East had been “very, very scary”.

“I assume nothing will happen to me. I just chat to the driver and watch the road ahead,” she remarks from the safety of her Farnhill home.

On one of her journeys north of Beirut to deliver text books to an impromptu school for Syrian refugees, she had to run the gauntlet of the so-called ‘sniper alley’.

She noted in her diary: “As we arrived at this point the shooting was intense. Hmm, tricky!

“Someone shows us a rough track, which runs parallel to the main road and sheltered from snipers, to some degree, by tall grasses.

“We drive fast along the track, or as fast as a slow truck can go on rough ground, and come out beyond sniper alley.”

The next day she had to tackle sniper alley again, this time in a taxi going hell-for-leather, and ends up being car sick.

Eventually, she returned to her ‘safe house’ in Tripoli, only to wake up the following morning to intense shelling and close gunfire, and had to lay low for several hours as opposing religious factions battled it out.

Maggie’s mission in the country with Edinburgh Direct Aid, a small volunteer international relief agency, was to deliver a 40ft container loaded with eight tonnes of winter clothing, blankets, shelter materials and medical aids to Baalbeck in the Bekaa valley, which has a high concentration of refugees. The aim was then to convert the empty container into a clinic.

She also planned to deliver text books to the town of Aarsal, where Syrian refugee children are being educated by voluntary refugee teachers. Her diary recalls the troubles she had getting the materials to the destination.

She sacked her translator, who wanted to inflate his salary, and then had to negotiate with Hezbollah “with trepidation”.

The convoy eventually reached the camp, where it was overwhelmed with people desperate for help.

Maggie then travelled further north, into a “no man’s land”, to deliver plastic shelter materials, shoes, baby clothes, fleeces and jackets.

She wrote: “In Arsaal, it’s a total misery. Thick snow and cloying mud. I would just die if I was a refugee trying to survive here.”

Three days before she was due to fly home, “all hell breaks loose” with intense gunfire, which continued into the next day.

Maggie flew home to her terraced sanctuary in Mary Street, Farnhill, earlier this month. She’s now enjoying a well-earned rest before returning to Baalbeck in April.

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