Posts Tagged ‘bourj el barejneh’

By: Mohan Mishra
Bourj el Barajneh

We have just finished our fourth week of teaching here in Bourj el Barajneh, a Palestinian refugee camp near Beirut, Lebanon. I continue to be amazed at the people here and how friendly and welcoming they have been to all of us volunteers. You can hardly walk down the street without someone calling you over to talk or invite you in for tea. After being here for more than a month, the community here really does make you feel at home.

We have now reached the midpoint with the english, french and computer classes. The students here all have such a deep knowledge about their history and community, it really has been an amazing experience to get to know them better.

Despite the unjust restrictions and the harsh reality facing Palestinians living in Lebanon, the kids here still have big dreams. Many want to be doctors, teachers, or journalists, while many also talk about wanting to help their community in someway when they are finished school.

In the classes they have all been eager to learn, although I think they have taught me more than I could ever teach them. The local NGO’s we are working with here have also been great. The different groups are all run by people from the camp and it is inspiring to see so many people working to support their own community. I am also amazed by the strength of the people living here. They have survived so much hardship and injustice, and have had so much taken away from them, yet they are still so generous and welcoming. I feel like I have already learned so much from the people here, about personal strength, about community, about generosity. I am looking forward to the next month of teaching and I sure it will be just as amazing as the last four weeks.

By: Lindsey Marchessault
Bourj el Barajneh

It was very difficult for me to choose the subject for this report back to Canada from Bourj el Barajneh. So many things have happened since I have been here and there have been innumerable “defining moments” of the summer so far. To try to describe the entire experience and how it feels to be here, I could write for pages and pages and never find the right words.

So, I have decided to write about an experience that I had visiting with one of my students, and how it made me feel about the situation of the Palestinians here in Lebanon as well as my own role as a visitor here.

I could tell soon after meeting her that she was a very determined and persistent 13 year old, because about 45 seconds after I learned her name she insisted that I come to her house for lunch. Over the course of that lunch, my student gave me a glimpse of her life, and taught me something about real ambition. As soon as we sat down in her home, without me asking any personal questions, she started to open up to me and spoke quite eloquently about her life.

A life that includes being a Palestinian refugee in Sabra, being the victim of structural discrimination, being a young girl with dreams that are very nearly impossible, being Muslim and loving God, and of course the trials and tribulations of being a 13 year old girl in general. Mostly she felt she needed guidance, encouragement and hope. She wants to do so much with her life, for herself and for Palestine , but is afraid she will never be able to do most of it. I felt sad for her, because of the obstacles she will face, and at the same time I felt hope. That somehow if she works hard enough in her pursuits, and if we work hard enough to lift the restrictions barring her way that her ambition will prevail.

The hard part is, I don’t know who the “we” is in the previous sentence, and I doubt that I am even a part of it. I know I want to be, but the solution as to how is illusive. I came out of that meeting feeling very spoiled for the luck of my birth and freedom, and weak because I don’t know how I would be in her place.

As a Canadian student here for only one more month (a virtual stranger) I know that the personal guidance I can give to this girl is very, very limited. But I know that when I go back to Canada my obligation to this girl is to find a way to participate, indirectly at least, in making her goals more achievable.

By: Amal El Masri
Bourj el-Barajneh

“Teacher! Teacher!” Hiba pulls at my shirt while Mohammad clutches at my elbow while Omar pinches my cheek while Sahar, Rayan and Ahmad hug me from behind. “We want to plaayyyyy!” They demand in unison. Its fourteen minutes into class and already my nine-year olds have mutinied. “Get into two rows!” I yell, trying to organize a game of the ever-popular Simon Says. It’s two weeks into teaching and I have gained a whole new appreciation if not reverence for the other teachers at the Woman’s Humanitarian Organization. These kids are bright. They’re bright and they’re loud and they’re burning up with energy that the narrow alleys and the small houses of the camp do not allow them to expend. There are no parks or streets or open spaces to speak of in Bourj el-Barajneh, just a crunch of concrete. Alaa, an 11-year old in my journalism class, writes that “the alleys are full of garbage and smell bad.” “When we play outside the neighbors yell at us and when we play in the house our parents yell at us,” Mahmoud, another student in my journalism class, tells me. So the kids come to class quite nearly bouncing of the walls and I am now remembering in my old age (18 years) what it feels like to want to sing and dance and shout and play at 10 am in the morning. I may have been shell-shocked the first few days, but now the laughter and the hugs at the end of class make me realize that I couldn’t ask for a better start to my day.

By: Samer Abdel-Nour
Bourj El-Barajneh

In the early hours of Monday morning, I was woken by a terrible BOOM. The noise was enormous and shook the house and everything in it. It left me shivering, unable to move in my bed. My first thought was that there was an explosion in the camp, perhaps at one of the houses next to us. People in the camp were streaming into the alleyways. It was chaos. Samer Mahmoud, the person from whom I rent a room from, knocked on my door to see if I was alright. “It was an Israeli F-16…” Samer said, “they fly the jet so low to the ground that it breaks the sound barrier. It has happened to us many times in the past. You know, intimidation tactics, to remind us that they can still get us anytime they want.”

Intimidation is an understatement. Sleeping in a room which is 32 degrees Celsius and humid is difficult enough. After this experience, it was impossible. The next day the children would not let me teach them. Some would not even lift their heads up from the table. They were tired and visibly upset. All of the children I teach would have been too young to live through the long civil war, Israeli invasion, or the nine-year siege of the camps. If they had, they would remember similar sounds. I stood in front of my Monday classes wondering what it was like for a child of seven, or ten, to be woken up at 1am by the explosive sound of the Israeli F-16. I have seen and heard so much that I haven’t been sure of what to write, or even where to begin.

Maybe I could have started with the mother who brought me to tears because she did not have money to buy milk for her baby. She was so proud, and could not look at me in the eyes when she told me this. Or perhaps I could have begun by telling all of you about the six-year siege of the camps, when many of the people I have met here survived on rats and cats, and the wounded were operated on without medical supplies or anesthesia. Maybe I could have shared one of my many giant cockroachs-in-my-bed stories, or written about the poor kitten that had half of its head chewed off by a rat or other cats, who lay meowing near my doorstep for two days, keeping me up those nights. What was I to do? Put it out of its misery? Buy it milk when there are babies who go without? All this in a country that is full of new money.

The downtown core in Beirut is beautiful, and the Prime Minister here is one of the richest men in the Middle East. No. These things are too depressing, and I have not even begun to mention the disgusting quality of the water, the astonishing rates of disease due to malnutrition, or the 80% unemployment rate. Perhaps I could mention that the camp is a 1 km squared concrete jungle of alleyways where 18 000 plus people live almost totally without sunlight, and children here do not even have a small playground area to play. Instead, I should consider writing about the strength and kindness of the Palestinian refugees living in Burj El-Barajne. I could mention that regardless of the poverty and conditions in the camp, I have never before experienced such generosity. I do recall hearing someone say once, that it is the poor who give the most. Some days I cannot even take ten steps without hearing ‘ahlan’ or ‘fudal’, meaning ‘welcome’, ‘enter’. I have spent much time sitting, eating, and drinking tea with many of the families and shopkeepers that I have come across in the camp. These people are beautiful, and although I am clearly ‘ajnabe’, meaning ‘foreigner’, I have been accepted as one of them. My kids in Burj El-Barajne see me every morning, and sometimes it is difficult for them to get excited for the class, especially in the heat and humidity of Beirut. But it is different in Shatila and Sabra, where I only teach two days per week each. When I arrive it is always a treat for me. The last time I taught at Shatila, Fatima, an eight year old in my class was waiting for me by the window. When she saw me she flew down the three flights of stairs, grabbed my hand, and lead me to the class. She made me wait outside the room while she announced to the class that ‘Austaz Samer’ had arrived.

In Sabra, the older children fight with the younger children over which class I will teach first, even thought they know that the young ones get me first. Sometimes my body is caught in a tug of war. Four of five are pulling one arm, four or five on the other, and one or two little ones with their arms around my waist smiling up at me. Often I feel down, depressed, and overwhelmed at the conditions of the camps. These moments with the children are the ones that give me the energy to continue with a smile on my face. Without them, I don’t know how I could get out of bed each morning in the sticky heat, and take the shower in water that more often than not smells worse than I do. All in all, I am fine. In a short period of time, my teaching will end, and I will be on my way home.

One of the people in the camp had asked a small favour of me for when I return to Canada. When I asked what it was, he replied, “Don’t do what the world has done for the last 55 years. Don’t forget about us.” I definitely won’t.

By: Christina Nitsou
Bourj el Barajneh

We have been in Bourj el Barajneh, a Palestinian refugee camp in Beruit, Lebanon for approximately two weeks now. The sights, the people, the atmosphere is indescribable because there is such a rich history and such hidden meanings to what meets the eye. I was and still am amazed at how the entire camp runs itself. The organization and the sense of community that everyone tries to create in order to live life the best the can given their circumstances is amazing. To begin with, it is incredible to see such a community mobilize and organize themselves to provide services for everyone in the camp. The power of what a person or a group of people can do is unbelievable. The camp is like a small city in which everyone works to improve their situation and help those around them, even with minimal resources. People only have so much to offer but what they do have they offer it open heartedly. People have been very welcoming and have expressed their gratitude for other presence in the camp each summer. People’s smiles are so contagious here, that it is a wonderful way to start your day. It amazing at how much a person can learn in such a short period of time. So far, I have learned that what becomes of life is about what opportunities we encounter. When opportunity is limited and your future appears dim what do you do? People here have shown me that friendship and community is vital for survival and more importantly happiness. And so, identity and community have become the focus of our teaching. We decided to make these two topics ongoing themes throughout the summer and allow our students to understand the strong dynamics that exist in their own community what their individual contribution can be. People continually ask me why I came to Lebanon, and why the refugee camps? I am here to learn and absorb as much as I can about a culture and group of people that I know very little about. We are all on our way to learning and sharing so much more and the summer has just begun.

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