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Farnhill aid worker Maggie Tookey back from Lebanon
9:00am Sunday 23rd February 2014 in News
Aid worker Maggie Tookey, who has just returned from Lebanon where thousands of people are seeking refuge from the fighting in Syria, claims not to be brave.
“I assume nothing will happen to me. I just chat to the driver and watch the road ahead,” the former Aireville School teacher remarks from the safety of her home in Farnhill.
But she admits that her latest venture to the Middle East had been “very, very scary”.
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 sniper alley.
She noted in her diary: “As we arrived at this point the shooting was intense. Hmmmm 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. She’s car sick.
Eventually, she returned to her “safe house” in Tripoli, only to wake up the following morning to intense shelling and close gunfire. She 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 tons 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 Syrian refugee teachers.
Her diary recalls the troubles she had getting the materials to the destination in three trucks.
On February 3, 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 is total misery. Thick snow and cloying mud. I would just die if I was a refugee trying to survive here.”
Back in Baalbeck, the factional fighting continued, with the container in the line of fire.
Three days before she was due to fly home, on Friday, February 5, “all hell breaks loose” with intense gunfire, which continued into the next day.
“By around 4pm, the shooting had become too intense and we decided to make a hasty exit,” she noted.
Maggie flew home to her terraced sanctuary in Mary Street, Farnhill, on Friday, February 7 – but with a terrible cold and a cough.
She’s now enjoying a well earned rest before returning to Baalbeck in April to see how the clinic is working.