The leader of one of the largest humanitarian efforts in Syria has been named 2013 Humanitarian of the Year by InterAction, an alliance of more than 180 U.S.-based international relief organizations. Samer Laham is a driving force inside Syria, providing vital humanitarian assistance to those in need without regard to religious, ethnic, or political affiliations. Under Laham's leadership of the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Development for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East (GOPA) based in Damascus, Syria, GOPA has worked tirelessly to provide more than $31 million in emergency aid to displaced Syrians as well as ongoing assistance to Iraqi refugees, including educational support, vocational training, small business development, and crisis counseling.
With the outbreak of violence in Syria that has inflicted hardship on millions of its citizens, Laham has courageously led his staff of 120 to provide food, medical supplies, crisis counseling, and other services essential to survival for people in need across the country. In the face of bombardments, fighting and constant fear, Mr. Laham and his staff have persevered to provide humanitarian assistance to more than 300,000 vulnerable Syrian children, families and elderly. "The love we receive from the people we serve when we see the joy in their tired faces makes us work tirelessly," said Laham from his Damascus office, "and arms us with the faith that humanity cannot be human without touching those who suffer by taking the initiatives to alleviate the agony of each human being."
Since 2007, Laham has partnered with International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), to provide tuition assistance, school supplies, tutoring and personal care kits to thousands of Iraqi refugee schoolchildren and disadvantaged Syrian schoolchildren as well as their families. Assistance expanded to vocational and business training for Iraqi refugee men and women resettled in Syria when conflict forced them to flee their own country. Most recently, IOCC has worked with GOPA to respond to the humanitarian crisis brought on by the conflict in Syria with assistance reaching Syrian men, women, and children displaced in their own country. Laham's department also enjoys partnerships with more than 20 international relief organizations, United Nations agencies and numerous European embassies.
The award was presented at the InterAction Banquet Gala and Awards Ceremony held in Washington D.C. on April 30. IOCC Executive Director, Constantine Triantafilou, accepted the award on behalf of Laham, who remains in Syria continuing his work.
The IOCC is the official humanitarian aid agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America. Since its inception in 1992, IOCC has delivered $438 million in relief and development programs to families and communities in more than 50 countries. IOCC is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and agencies engaged in development, humanitarian assistance and advocacy, and a member of InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.–based secular and faith-based organizations working to improve the lives of the world's most poor and vulnerable populations. The United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are also members of the ACT Alliance. The IOCC is one of the implmenting partners of relief that the UCC and Disciples have supported through an appeal.
Mr. Laham was a guest at the UCC's General Synod 27 in Grand Rapids, MI (2009), and addressed the plenary on the issue of Iraqi refugees. He is invited to attend this summer's Disciples' General Assembly in Orlando, FL.