By: Lara di Tamasso

“But I am Palestinian.” This is what Manal told me as we walked into Baalbeck arm in arm. I had just asked her what she wanted to be when she grows up. She told me she wants to be a heart surgeon, but she is Palestinian. Her brother studied chemical engineering, ” . but he is Palestinian, so he can not work in his field.” Manal is one of the students I have the privilege of teaching at Najdeh in Wavel camp. My class is composed mainly of 15 and 16 year olds, all of whom face very difficult decisions in the coming years. My respect grows for them with every passing day. They are bright, driven young people with big dreams and bigger hearts. Well aware of the obstacles they face as Palestinians in Lebanon, they come to class every day, eager to learn. I have heard of the jobs Palestinians are allowed to hold in Lebanon described as, “a list of jobs no one would want.” Day laborer, mechanic, garbage man. I often observe my students during those rare moments of silence, while their heads are bent over their work. There is Mahmoud, who wrote in his journal last week, “I want to be a good man.” There is Mohammed, the artist, who eagerly showed me his sketch book of incredible drawings when I visited his family. There is Khalil, who has betrayed his dream of becoming a professional football player in pursuit of a more realistic goal: working as a children’s doctor. There is Manal, the aspiring heart surgeon, who takes it upon herself to correct my English from time to time. And Hanan, whose resigned sadness is so palpable, I wish I could promise her a better future. These students have taught me more than I have taught them. I know they will grow into beautiful human beings. But they will most likely be prevented from growing into their dreams. They have been pre-defined, labeled, and limited by the laws that govern their lives as Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. I do not see anything of the mechanic in Mohammad that I am supposed to see. And I dread the day when he is forced to see it in himself.

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