Why Palestinians in Lebanon?

Over 60% of Palestinian families in Lebanon are living below the UN-established poverty line.  Classified as foreigners in Lebanon, they are prohibited from employment in more than 70 trades and professions, denied most social and civil rights and have limited access to health and educational services.  Having lived through nearly 70 years of tumultuous exile since the creation of the state of Israel, the Palestinian refugee population in Lebanon now has the greatest percentage of hardship cases (as defined by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) of any Palestinian community, including Gaza. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon have seen their population numbers swell, as they received thousands of Palestinian and Syrian refugees fleeing Syria.

In 1996, several Canadians working in Lebanon recognized the dire situation facing the Palestinians in Lebanon and approached a number of local not-for-profit non-governmental organizations in discuss potential collaborations in support of their efforts.  The organizations expressed a particular need for educational programming for children, since a high percentage of their students were not able to complete secondary school.  These organizations noted that a significant challenge to the successful completion of Palestinian students’ education was the fact that they must follow the Lebanese curriculum, which requires them to pass a national grade 9 exam that places a heavy emphasis on English language proficiency.  In direct response to their request, CEPAL was founded and began offering English language instruction to children and youth in several camps in Lebanon.

Since then, CEPAL’s programs have grown to include English, French and computer classes, informal as well as formal instruction, and teacher training. From an initial partnership with three local organizations, our work has expanded to partnerships with ten NGOs and UNRWA – the UN agency responsible for providing basic health, social and educational services for Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East. In addition to the two Beirut area camps – Bourj el-Barajneh and Shatila—where CEPAL first started working, we now also work in the Ba’albek area camp of Wavel and the unofficial settlement of Talabaya.

A Challenging and Changing Context in Lebanon

Unfortunately, since the 2006 war in Lebanon, CEPAL has increasingly had to contend with an unstable political climate in Lebanon. This worsened after the 2007 siege and partial destruction of Nahr el-Bared camp, as well as the heightened securitization of many of the areas where the camps are located, because of the Syrian civil war and the recent spate of bombings in Lebanon. The massive influx of refugees from Syria has further altered the context in which CEPAL traditionally conducted its work, placing a heavy burden on our local partners.

CEPAL’s programs have been significantly reduced because of these difficulties, with no volunteers sent to the camps since 2011. Feedback from our partners, however, continues to emphasize a need for educational support, particularly at the current time when the influx of Palestinian and Syrians refugees from Syria is adding strain to an already overstressed educational system.

Rebuilding CEPAL Programs in Canada and Lebanon
In the 2016-2017 year, CEPAL therefore aims to rebuild its programs in Canada and Lebanon. This is where you come in! We are looking for committed and motivated individuals to join our team!

We are looking for board members in Canada to fill a variety of positions, including Overseas Programming, External Relations, Social Media / Website Administration and many more. Now is your chance to make a difference! Board positions are held for one year (January-December 2017), and require just a few hours a week of your time.In addition to filling board positions, we are also recruiting for an overseas volunteer, who would undertake a needs and security assessment with CEPAL partners and Palestinian communities in Lebanon for one month between May-August 2017. This assessment would determine how our programs could be relaunched in ways that best respond to the changed needs in the camps. The volunteer would also provide support to the board in the lead up and in the months following the needs assessment. Professional teaching experience (especially in ESL), knowledge of Arabic, and/or familiarity with the Middle East are not necessary, but would be assets.

How to Apply

  • 1-page letter of intent that addresses why you are interested in joining our board or undertaking the needs assessment in Lebanon (12 pt font, single-spaced);
  • A copy of your CV
  • Contact information for 2 references (Name, Title, Organization, Email Address and Phone Number)
Interviews for board positions will be held between end of November and mid-December 2016. Interviews for the overseas position will be held in January 2017.
If you are interested in joining our team, please send the following documents to info@cepal.ca by 17 November 2016 at 5pm EST.

CEPAL is recruiting 2-3 English teachers and a Team Coordinator for our 2011 Fall Overseas Program. We are seeking highly motivated individuals to teach English to children and youth in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon through traditional language classes as well as through arts, sports, and other hands-on activities. Volunteers live in the camps and have a unique opportunity to learn about the lives of Palestinian refugee through experience.

Program Dates: early September—mid-December, 2011

Application Deadline: June 22, midnight EST

For further details, see our Application Procedure. For questions, don’t hesitate to contact info@cepal.ca<mailto:info@cepal.ca>

CEPAL's 2011 Call for Volunteers!

On May 15th, 2011 CEPAL is holding an exciting event, Sounds of the Revolution: Resistance, Rights & Refugees.

Join us for an evening of music, poetry and hip – hop and help raise money for CEPAL’s Overseas Program in Lebanon!

Recently listed by NOW Magazine’s Editors as one of this week’s can’t-miss events!!


Featured Artists:

Ava Homa, Author

Yaseen of I-VOICE, hip – hop artist

Mary Lou Zeitoun – Author

Recently added!


A Toronto-based Gypsy Jazz band that features a repertoire of
traditional Gypsy music (“Jelem, Jelem”, “Cona Seemus”) and original songs by Michael T Butch (“Gypsy
Mama”, “Nassau Street”).

When: May 15th 2011, 6PM – 9PM

Where: Beit Zatoun, 612 Markham St, Toronto

Click HERE for the full sized poster!


CEPAL is seeking artists to showcase their talents at a fundraising event.

We are looking for individuals with talents in music, dance, poetry, and writing to showcase their work in an evening of cultural experience and awareness building. We are mostly interested in art that is focused on issues related to resistance, the Middle East, the Palestinian impasse, refugees, exile and other related topics. if you are interested in performing for this event, please send in the following information to info@cepal.ca:

-Name, Address and Contact information
-Previous performance experience
-Include a sample of your work if possible

Our event will take place on Sunday, May 15th 2011 in Toronto, Ontario.


I had been in Lebanon for less than a day when someone said to me, “You’ll have to choose a team, you know.  Everyone’s going to ask you about it.”  This was absolutely true, as it turned out.  I had arrived in mid-June for five months of living and working in a Palestinian refugee camp, and much to my surprise, everyone was seized with World Cup fever.  This was hardly what I had expected.

What I had expected was what I saw at Bourj el Barajneh camp in Beirut, where I stayed during my first week.  The crowded Palestinian camp was a labyrinth of tight little alleys, the housing was stacked high (often looking quite precarious), electrical wires crisscrossed and tangled together in the air wherever you looked, and young children tried to make the best of it, attempting to play in the narrow, airless, sun-deprived passageways.  It was the picture of an underserved population.

It seemed odd at first to see flags for different World Cup soccer teams flying everywhere throughout the camp – flags from Germany, Italy, Argentina, and yes, Brazil, the crowd favourite.  Although I’m not much of a sports fan, I quickly became grateful for the World Cup as I started to meet some of the Palestinians.  As a newcomer, it was a topic of conversation that never let me down, whatever our cultural differences.  Everyone, from children to grandmothers, was engaged in it.  I soon joined the Brazil supporters.

As woman, I wasn’t free to watch soccer games in public places, enjoying the shared energy and rowdy enthusiasm of the crowds of spectators.  Instead, I saw a few games in the homes of Palestinian families, who welcomed me warmly and generously as a new friend.  During a commercial break, the adolescent son of one of my hosts turned to me and said, “In four years, it will be a Palestinian team that wins.”  He punctuated his comment with a wink, and the wink said a lot.  This bright youth knew he’d made a far-fetched statement, but it spoke of his aspirations for his people.

For a while I was baffled by the teams the Palestinians rooted for in the games.  I’d expected them to cheer for the underdogs, but instead they were clapping and shouting for the most powerful teams.  I came to wonder whether their heart-felt support for the best teams was a way of honouring their own strength and abilities, in a time when so many feel diminished and forgotten by the rest of the world.

Lying in bed one night in the camp, trying to get to sleep while a World Cup game played on, I was able to keep score by the sounds that rose up in the dark with each goal.  Shouts, honking horns, fireworks, and perhaps even some celebratory gunfire marked each triumphant moment of a team that was worlds away.  “Yes, we are here,” the Palestinians seemed to declare into the night.  “Even here, in this camp, we are one of you and with you.”

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CEPAL cookbook for sale
CEPAL cook books for sale: $15 each. Enjoy Palestinian food at home! Email info@cepal.ca to order