Teenager brings Lebanon experience back to Sheffield

Ryan Wilkinson (front row left) and Leah Fox in Lebanon
Ryan Wilkinson (front row left) and Leah Fox in Lebanon
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Caring teenager Ryan Wilkinson has travelled to Lebanon to meet with refugees from Syria, Iraq and Palestine, and now hopes to encourage others to take action to support the stricken groups.

Eighteen-year old Ryan, of Sheffield, and his companion, Leah Fox, 19, from Newcastle, did the 3,000 miles journey with Catholic aid agency CAFOD.

Now back in their hometowns, the pair are working with children and young people to help them better understand the refugee situation. They will address thousands of young people at Wembley Arena next March for the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation event.

The pair hope that by sharing their story, they will inspire young people across the country to act in solidarity with refugees.

While in Lebanon, Ryan and Leah visited CAFOD partners Caritas Lebanon and Association Najdeh.

Caritas Lebanon centres stretch across Lebanon and are places where refugee children and young people can learn, socialise and integrate into Lebanese society while sharing their experiences and discussing the challenges they face.

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 recently fled conflict in Syria.

The Association also supports Palestinian women to gain employment and advocate for their rights, and provides 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 learned so much and it has really helped me to become more aware of the refugee situation in Lebanon as well as the world.”

Ryan has spent the past two years taking part in CAFOD’s young leadership development scheme with All Saints’ Catholic Secondary School, Sheffield. He is also a volunteer at Savio House, a Salesian residential retreat centre in Bollington.

Leah spent a year volunteering with the Youth Ministry Team in Hexham and Newcastle, and is studying for a primary education degree.

When meeting refugees, Ryan and Leah shared messages of hope and welcome from 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, CAFOD has received over 17,000 messages of hope from people of all ages.