By:  John Minnery
Bourj al Barajneh

One of the best parts of my university experience was the diverse group of friends I made especially from Carleton’s Middle East Discussion Group. They had an immeasurable impact on me, energizing me through solidarity and exchanges of ideas to formulate a worldview. I hope to someday-soon–apply my training as an engineer in a non-profit situation as with my hero,-literally and sincerely I admire his work– the founder of CEPAL, Mark Zeitoun.

I think the tragedy our governments-Western governments–are causing in Iraq is shameful to the nth degree, and presently one of the world community’s gravest crimes. Therefore I am so thankful that people like Mark are pursuing justice as best they can in such a meaningful and constructive way as he is, as an engineer working with the ICRC. The same is true about the continuing tragedy in Israel/Palestine and the self-sacrificing efforts of the present organizers and volunteers at CEPAL.

My CEPAL experience is unforgettable and my memories of it, from beginning to end are treasured. I enjoyed every part of it, from planning in Cafes in the Glebe or on Elgin St. with Kim, Maysa, Mona, Nader and Mark, to the fund raising, garage sales, my first ever–and probably my last– hair-cut-a-thon, to radio interviews on Nader’s Islamic Mosaics to finally but not fearlessly to the journey to Lebanon and the refugee camps. Our personal exchange with the refugees began after Nader and I met UNIPAL’s champion in Lebanon, Jenny. Jenny first introduced us to other like-minded and inspirational volunteers from UNIPAL, and a Norwegian organization. Then she introduced us to a Palestinian, grass roots, social system. I was so impressed how in the absence of a catering government the Palestinians had formed their own social security system, with numerous schools, hospitals, nurseries, and welfare programs. I was struck by the juxtaposed extreme filth and poverty and neighbouring a la mode material wealth: yet spirits were strong, and hopes high among the underprivileged Palestinians facing huge hurdles. I was struck by the evidence of the devastating civil war that had partially destroyed Lebanon; by the militarism evident in a tour of the edge of the Israeli occupation zone, through the UN bases, especially Qana.
I was struck by the civilian services provided by Hizbollah: water, hospitals, education and buildings, and by their popular support even from one “recovering” Christian Lebanese youth. I made many friends in the Palestinian settlements and I will never forget them, their struggles, or the injustices they continue to face. John G. Minnery With many thanks to Kim, Maysa, Mona, Mark and to my partner and roommate in Bourj al Barajneh, Nader and to all the other supporters of CEPAL.

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