By Elizabeth Cooper

On January 21st, 2010, the Conservative government announced that Canada would be withdrawing its financial support from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). UNRWA has been assisting Palestinian Refugees gain access to food, education, health care and social services since 1950, when they numbered roughly 1 million. Today, the number of Palestinians in refugee camps has swelled to approximately 5 million and their circumstances have seen little change.

As a volunteer during CEPAL’s 2009 Summer Program, I saw firsthand the impact of UNRWA’s presence in the camps. Each camp has an UNRWA school, giving hundreds of children access to education. My fellow CEPAL volunteers, Julie and Erin, worked at UNRWA schools in both Shatila and Wavel camps. The infrastructure provided by the school makes summer programs like CEPAL’s possible.

While living in Bourj el-Barajneh, UNRWA’s presence wasn’t flashing in neon lights at the main entrance to the camp. It was omnipresent, however. Blue signs outside of small offices, the schools, rubbish collectors with UNRWA vests, the occasional question from a resident, “do you work for UNRWA?” Healthcare, including hospitals, doctors and medicine, is provided for by UNRWA. Social services, including disability and emergency relief, are designed to assist individuals in becoming more self-reliant. UNRWA also runs microfinance programs and programs for women, all designed to promote positive socio-economic growth within the Palestinian community. UNRWA has provided many physical benefits to the Palestinians, but they have also provided quantifiable evidence of Palestinian population numbers, unemployment rates, health statistics and documented living conditions. All of this information colludes to form a body of knowledge that represents the Palestinian people in the global arena. Reports written, photographs taken, statistics calculated; all help to define the plight of Palestinian refugees and publicize it internationally.

UNRWA is funded exclusively by UN member nations. In 2009, only 86% of targeted funding was reached, which has resulted in a reduction in quality and quantity of services. With the Palestinian population growing, the situation will continue to worsen. Canada’s withdrawal of funding, after multiple decades, means UNRWA has just lost its 7th largest donor. The loss of these funds could have real impact on the ground in camps like Bourj, where I lived, and friends I made continue to live. The funds, reallocated to other, as yet unspecified Palestinian projects, are crucial to the delivery of important UNRWA programs. CEPAL’s primary mandate is empowerment through education; these cuts could severely inhibit UNRWA’s ability to provide access to education in the camps.

We at CEPAL encourage anyone reading this statement to write a letter to their member of parliament, asking for an explanation for the withdrawal of funding, and a breakdown of the reallocation of funds.

The 2010 CEPAL Calendar contains photos taken by volunteer Elizabeth Cooper during the 2009 Summer Program.

Each calendar costs $15, or you can buy 3 for $30.

Please click here for more information.

To order, please email or use CanadaHelps for payment.The 2010 CEPAL Calendar contains photos taken by volunteer Elizabeth Cooper during the 2009 Summer Program.

Each calendar costs $15, or you can buy 3 for $30.

Please email or click here for more information!

If you live in Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal and are interested in volunteering at CEPAL, please think about applying for a position on the Board of Directors for 2010.  Available Director positions include: Events; Communications; IT; and Finance.

Please click here or email for more information

Thanks to the hard work and help of many volunteers and donors, CEPAL is delighted to announce that we successfully ran our 11th summer program in Lebanon!

Last summer’s Needs Assessment has helped us to reaffirm that yes, our summer program in the camps is as important as ever and that yes, CEPAL’s summer program plays a significant role in the camps.

This year we were fortunate enough to hire volunteers who had the specific skills that our partner NGO’s were looking for.  This included photography, drama and science.

Three volunteers and one coordinator completed a three-day series of teaching workshops with UNRWA and Najdeh in Wavel camp, and then moved on to Bourj el-Barajneh camp in South Beirut to begin their regular classes.

Elizabeth Cooper used photography to a connect to children of various ages at the Children and Youth Centre of Shatila, as well as a class of younger children at the Women’s Humanitarian Organization in Bourj.

Erin Lynch taught a group of grade 8 students at the UNRWA Haifa school, as well as a group of young teens at Najdeh school in Shatila.

Julie Davidson taught at UNRWA Haifa, with the younger group of grade 7 students.  After spending the early morning there, she made her way to Najdeh in Bourj, where she taught  science and English.

Wendy Chan, the Lebanon Field Coordinator, worked very hard to continue to build our relationships with all of our partners and with the community as a whole.

We’re very grateful to our volunteers, who have enabled CEPAL to continue lending an empathetic ear, helping hands, and a voice of solidarity to our friends in Lebanon.

By: Elizabeth Cooper

Summer 2009 Volunteer

“This past summer, I worked for the Women’s Humanitarian Organization (WHO) in Bourj and the Children and Youth Centre (CYC) in Shatila.  These organizations promote fun, informal activities for large groups of children.  The result is rather chaotic, energy filled sessions of running, screaming, and having fun.  Always interesting and productive, my time at these centres taught me many things.  I learned the  importance of creativity when working with young minds and allowing opportunities for independent play.  The large groups of children and the full schedule left little time for calm, quiet moments at either centre.   Undoubtedly this is one reason why the experience remains so vivid to me.

Towards the end of my stay, a group of Italian volunteers came to WHO to run activities for the students.  With a little free time on my hands, I took the opportunity to photograph the children and help out other volunteers.  It was wonderful to watch the children play and interact with each other and the volunteers.  At one point I was watching the children play a drama game with the Italians, when I heard a small voice exclaim something, but I couldn’t understand what was said (not unusual for me in Lebanon!).  The noise came from an empty classroom, so I went in to investigate.

A small boy was sitting in a high window, arms dangling through the bars, fingers grasping some small piece of garbage picked up from the street, yelling things at the children he could see in the front room.   I went over to him to say hello, and he very calmly looked at me. I asked him his name, he said “Khalil”.  He was about 6 years old and spoke no English. Via some rather silly pantomime, I asked him if he wanted to come inside and join. He said nothing.  I tried again; he just levelled his steady gaze at me and said nothing. He was content to sit there and watch the students and me as well. I asked to take his picture, he said no, with an ever so slight raise of the eyebrows. Again I asked him to come inside, and again he refused. His eyes were tired and experienced and they betrayed an age much older than that of his body. It was difficult for me to get any sort of reaction out of him, regardless of what I did. So I left him on his own, staring into the centre, and I returned to the ongoing activities.

The incident left me feeling strange, because here I was, working within a centre that was supposed to be a place for children to come, to socialize and to learn, and here was a child being excluded. Perhaps not intentionally, but he was left out, that was clear for anyone to see. Who knows for what reason he was not involved in our program, but he was not involved. We finished for the day and I went home.  The next day was similar to the one that came before it and I was milling amongst the children giving help where help was needed. Again the children were involved in a game with the other volunteers and they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. As I wandered through the crowd of people, I found myself standing at the door of the same classroom I had been in the day before. And again I heard a small voice. Sure enough, there was Khalil. Long and gangly, he hung through the bars of the window, as though he was attempting to pour himself through the bars into the classroom. He seemed utterly fixated on the activities that were happening around me and I was sure this time I could convince him to come in. Over I went to the window, to say hello and work my ‘magic.’ My attempts at getting him into the centre went unnoticed and he stayed, lodged on the stairs, dangling through the window, simply staring. As a last shot, I asked him if it was all right to take his picture. By this point in our relationship, no real words had passed between us. He had continued to gaze at me with the eyes of an elder and I had continued to make my meaning known through various forms of sign language.  He said yes. And so, I took his picture. This one exposure is all I have to remind me of this brief encounter, and I am lucky to have it. It is important for me to remember that no matter what anyone feels they have accomplished, there is always so much more to do, so many more people left waiting indefinitely.”

Donate Now Through!

Subscribe to our newsletter

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