Posts Tagged ‘bourj el barejneh’

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.”

Images displayed in this gallery are by Nancy Kendle, an emerging documentary photographer. Nancy began photographing eight years ago, and she is now a graduate (2006) of the Professional Photography Program at Dawson College in Montreal.

Nancy is committed to using visual language to tell the stories of the people she photographs. She traveled to Lebanon during CEPAL’s 2006 Summer Program to photograph CEPAL volunteers working with CEPAL partner organizations in Bourj el Barajneh, Shatila and Wavel refugee camps. She is currently working on a photo documentary in Quebec and hopes to further the work she began in the summer of 2006 in Lebanon.

Please visit for more information about her work.
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Often these days in Lebanon, when you ask anyone about their opinion of the situation, you will get the feeling that the next three days will be decisive, before Thursday that is – this is what is coming from all the news sources. It seems as though it is almost almost a certainty that demonstrations will start any moment, probably Thursday.

Any yet – you don’t feel or see any preparations on the ground for this. The main thing can conclude, then, as you walk the streets of Beirut, is that there is an incredible sense of caution and waiting still for an actual announcement of demonstrations.

The news this morning said that all the logistics for the demonstrations have been finished and that people are only waiting for the start signal – which is still secret. These rumors are paralleling the hectic mediation efforts being carried out by Saudis and Egyptian diplomats. This is a time of bidding, when offers and counter-offers are made before reaching the next step. My personal feeling is that despite all the talk about demonstrations, these may not actually be the next step. I feel that it’s being announced and talked about this much merely as a tactic – a pressure tactic – because demonstrations are a big step to take, and Nasrallah did not mention an exact date in his speech. Demonstrations are a dangerous step to take; they are risky and need to achieve their stated goals in a very short period of time; they depend on masses of people that are largely uncontrollable. Even Nasrallah has acknowledged these dangers. He warned people that if he calls for demonstrations they should not respond to provocations or attacks from the other side, but who is convinced that in such a circumstances people will listen? I went this weekend for a tour of Beirut starting from Dahyeh, in the southern suburbs, and ending in Hamra in West Beirut. In Dahyeh the place was boiling with people and life, there were tons of people on the streets and no feeling of any unusual situation, even in the destroyed area. People were coming and going, shopping and busy with their daily preoccupations. Construction was ongoing and you could find new shops open here and there along streets that had been devastated. People’s mood did not seem to indicate any of the tension that usually precedes troublesome events. I asked some people I know who work in Dahyeh what they made of this rather unusually ‘normal’ situation, but everyone found it hard to explain. One certainty, however, according to one of my acquaintances, was that if Nasrallah called for demonstrations, people in Dahyeh would respond to this call without a doubt. Another person whom I asked to comment on the situation thought for a while and said: “I don’t think that there is going to be a war or troubles, even if they do go out for demonstrations. Really, you don’t see or hear parents telling their sons that they should go to war or support one side against another; this is what used to happen in previous troubles, but now there is none of this incitement .” He also told me that last week a number of owners of destroyed shops and homes were told to gather in a certain place, where they were loaded onto buses and taken elsewhere. The found themselves in another place where Nasrallah suddenly appeared and spoke to them. He did not speak of any troubles; he simply told them that reconstruction would start this coming spring, and that they shouldn’t fear the current situation because nothing was going to happen in the country. Heading toward the center of Beirut was a different matter – it was more obvious in the streets that something was amiss. I mean, the weekend was extraordinarily sunny and warm, and usually there would be hundreds of people out shopping and walking along the sea. And people were coming and going, yes, but not in their usually numbers. And shops were open, but not as many as there should have been. The only explanation for this absence and caution is that people have been following the news intensely and have become fearful of sudden events occurring while they are out. In areas of Beirut where two neighbourhoods with different sects meet – for instance in Mar Elias where you there are Sunnis in one part and Shi’ites in another, you can see posters of the Hariris in the Sunni areas, as well as those of Sinioura (the current prime minister) with the following writing on them: “Remaining, remaining, remaining.” This means, of course, that the Sunnis are saying that the government of Siniora will remain in power and not capitulate to the calls for a unity government. On the other side of the street, in the Shi’ite area, are posters of Berri (the speaker of parliament) and Nasrallah with the following writing on them: “Coming, coming, coming.” This refers to the last war, the coming final victory. Generally, then, people are worried. And this worry is amplified by and reflected in the current security measures being taken. At night, there are army patrols and armored personnel carriers that are deployed at certain crossroads and streets. There is a clear increase in police presence, and you feel that the atmosphere is not conducive to going out at night. You worry about being caught in the middle of some unfortunate matter and you conclude that it is not worth the risk. That is the mood in Beirut these days.

By: Gus Constantinou

You knew something out of the ordinary was occurring by the quartet of young boys posing as musicians milling about the street below. Three of the boys were holding durbakehs (Arabic drums) and one was cradling what looked to me to be bagpipes. The musicians’ hair was carefully slicked back, their jeans carefully ironed, their shirts impeccably pressed. A small group of women and children had begun to gather round the band, seemingly confirming our suspicions that something exciting was underway. Quite suddenly a cue was given and the boys began to drum in a frantic, yet unified rhythm.

No sooner had the high-pitched bagpipe played its first note than the women began to ululate in unison with the drums, throwing their hands into the air, and beginning to dance. From a room just below our balcony a woman in a white hijab emerged with one hand in the air, the other holding the hand of the man in a dark suit that followed her. Yet another woman emerged to going the group, this one in a green hijab. The trio danced in a circle to the cheers of the gathering that was growing by the second. As the music swelled, the trio went around the circle a few more times and then led the procession to awaiting automobiles. We ran to the back of the small apartment whose rear balcony provided us a perfect view of the ongoing ceremony. It was in this rear area where we had waited on several occasions for taxis to pick us up. It was also from this aerial perspective that I tried to compare this wedding scene with those back in Canada.

In Canada there isn’t water and sewage running through the streets. In Canada, there aren’t a myriad of electrical wires hanging from the roofs of crumbling and crowded buildings, pock-marked with shells from a not-too-distant war. In Canada, the bride and groom do not await their automobile by the camp garage dump. And in Canada, there isn’t a highway being constructed directly, almost as to appear inside, my family’s home and neighbourhood.

And yet in Canada, we do not celebrate this heartily.

Our neighbours do not take the time out of their busy lives to throw rice down on dancing brides and grooms and proclaim ‘Mabrouk!’ Our whole community and neighbourhood do not get excited and involved when a wedding procession noisily appears. Of all the places in the world that I have been, it has only been here, in this camp where people have allowed me to live and teach, that people resist by refusing to let their surroundings get the best of them. Just like in my Canadian home, despite its differences with the camp, a wedding is going on. And just like back home, perhaps even more so, there is much celebrating to be had!

By: Carolina Vergara Lamarre
Bourj el Barajneh

Amidst the chaos that are my classes, full of energetic students who already told me they love ‘Miss Carolina’ as of the first period of class, and the discouraging and depressing reality of the camp, I try and find a balance between overwhelming feelings of happiness at the hospitality and generosity of the families who have welcomed me into their homes, and my feelings of guilt and sadness.

It is already the 11th of July. I have only been in Lebanon a week and a half and have only just started teaching; however I have already noticed how fast time passes while here in the camps.

When I am not teaching, most of my free time is spent enjoying invitations to tea, coffee, dinner and engagement parties. Lesson planning therefore usually occurs late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. I already know how difficult it will be to leave all the wonderful people I have met and have yet to meet.

Amidst the heat, the grime and the mazes that are Bourj al Barajneh and Shatila, I have found such a wonderful energy, strength and warmth among the Palestinians living here in the camps. Sitting on the roof top drinking coffee or tea before bed while eating delicious fruit with my host family, has become a nightly ritual for me. As we chat, I look out at the lights on the mountains and the other houses in the camp and try to come to terms with the fact that I have been welcomed into the homes and the lives of a people and a community who have never enjoyed the same experience themselves for close to 60 years. This summer will prove to be one of the most challenging experiences I have faced as of yet.

While I attempt to make learning English “fun” to classes of 35 students, sweat plastering my clothes to my back and legs, I reevaluate my own priorities in life. I’m not sure how much English I will be able to teach my students over the summer. As long as they laugh and smile while with me, I will be happy. I know this summer will change me permanently. The friendships and lessons I learn while living here will stay with me forever.

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