Posts Tagged ‘wavel’

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.

By: Yasmine Lemzoudi

It’s early in the morning. The shops which usually pave the way to the Najdeh association are all closed except for the ‘Manaeesh’ shops which are at their busiest preparing pizza like pieces of bread with thyme or cheese on top that everybody eats for breakfast. I try my best not to get my feet splashed with the water coming out of the houses and running down the middle of the meter wide alleyways. My body is already covered with sweat and it’s only nine in the morning. As I get to the classroom, the children greet me with the usual: “good morning miss!” As I start the class, the director brings two new students into the tiny room which barely fits the others. After fifteen minutes so many students have arrived in the 2 by 4 meter room that they have to sit in a second row of chairs around the only table in the room. Today’s activity is based on emotions. We first reviewed the different feelings and once they finished doing some written exercises, we moved on to the fun part of the lesson: they had to pick one emotion or feeling, write the word on coloured paper and decorate it. As they cut their chosen emotion in interesting shapes and glued it unto a wider piece of paper, I asked them to write down things that they associated with that emotion. Once they were finished, I went around the room and glanced at their papers and was astonished to see how many of them wrote : “I love Yasmine” or “I love you teacher” surrounded by flowers and hearts. They probably had no idea how much those words meant to me and I had no clue of how much I meant to them! I cut pieces of tape and put their creations up on the walls so that I could come in the next morning and remember that these children appreciate me and that it is enough of a reason to be here, no matter how hard that is.

By: Jessica Reekie

The plane began its descent in the early hours of the morning. Knowing a little of Lebanon’s troubled history, I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of the sights about which I had read in books and articles, but outside my window the sky was dark, reducing the city of Beirut to many clusters of light in a hazy, black expanse.

It was not until the drive from the airport to Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp that I got my first real look at Beirut. Images flashed by of decrepit bombed-out buildings and the new modern-looking structures that flanked them. The strange juxtaposition was a reminder of the devastation sustained by Lebanon during the civil war and the current government’s attempts to rebuild Beirut. However, as we approached the perimeter of the refugee camp, any evidence of government plans to restructure and beautify this part of the city was sadly absent.

My stay in Bourj el-Barajneh was going to be brief – a four-day orientation to camp life before beginning my internship in Wavel refugee camp in the Beqa’a Valley where I would live and work for the summer months. Cepal, the NGO that had brought me to Lebanon, had a well-established reputation in Bourj el-Barajneh where they had sent summer volunteers and interns for the past few years to teach English and French language classes. This summer, the small Ottawa-based organization intended to expand its overseas program by sending volunteers to teach conversational English in the oft-neglected rural refugee camps in Lebanon.

My first impressions of Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp were entirely favorable-so positive, in fact, that a mere four-days-stay made me slightly resentful of my plans to spend the summer in Wavel camp. True, the heat and humidity was pretty unbearable and the stench of garbage lay thick in the air, but the people were so wonderful! Barred from practicing over 75 professions, deprived of sanitary living conditions and continuous electricity (among other things) by the Lebanese government, it never ceases to amaze me how an oppressed and disadvantaged group of people like the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon manages to remain so welcoming and kind-hearted. As Cepal had encouraged us during pre-departure orientation to embrace the culture, the summer volunteers and I began immediately to make visits and meet new friends. The welcome we received was absolutely heart-warming.

Many of Bourj el-Barajneh’s inhabitants were familiar with Cepal and its programs that brought Canadians to work in the camp. This camp was well acquainted with the presence of foreign volunteers, as many different NGOs had supplied aid in various forms over the years. We were expected guests and treated like old friends. The easiness and the familiarity with which we were received in Bourj el-Barajneh made it difficult, at first, to envision a similar happiness in living and working in Wavel. While I was delighted at the prospect of meeting yet more new people, the excitement was tinged with nervousness. With approximately 7,000 registered Palestinian refugees living in Wavel, this relatively small refugee camp was not favored with assistance from foreign NGOs to the degree that larger, urban refugee camps enjoyed. One other Cepal summer volunteer and I were going to be the only foreign presence in a camp that unlike Bourj el-Barajneh, was not used to outsiders. The anxiety proved completely unnecessary. Living and working in Wavel this past summer made me realize that attention-starved communities, like Wavel Camp, react very positively to foreign aid. Far from being suspicious and guarded about an alien presence in the camp, people went out of their way to meet “the foreigners” and invite us into their homes. Their only complaint regarded the number of English teachers, for two were too few. Parents and students were so excited about prospective English summer classes that the day after our arrival adults and children crowded the office of Najdeh, our local NGO partner, with the hopes that they could enroll. Wavel’s Najdeh coordinator spent the next several days trying to accommodate all the families and managed only by restricting enrollment to one member per family. It was a challenge to conduct class in rooms that couldn’t even accommodate desks, as they took up much needed space. Heartbreaking though, was the number of children we had to turn away for want of time and better teaching facilities.

As I look back on this past summer and fall, I have come to accept, as all the other foreign volunteers have, that what I gave to the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon pales in comparison to what I received from the people I was sent to “help.” Their kindness and hospitality is difficult to repay and I remain in their debt. At the same time, the gratitude they expressed reminds me that my work, no matter how insignificant it may appear to me now, was appreciated by the community.

Cepal considers this past summer’s expansion intoWavel camp a success and I’m happy that the organization has plans to continue sending support in future years. Small communities like Wavel camp both need and appreciate foreign aid and I feel fortunate that I was given the opportunity to help.

By: Agnes Czajka

On Fridays, the UNRWA boys play sports. As most 14 and 15 years old boys, they wait with anticipation for these weekly games of basketball and football. The boys don’t seem to mind that both games must be played on the small, cement basketball court next to the UNRWA school. (Strategically placed garbage bins serve as football goalposts.)

This Friday, however, the excitement of basketball and football were superseded by another activity. This Friday, the boys were taking pictures of the camp for the newspaper that we have been working on for the past two weeks. The boys have been working on a newspaper that I will bring back to Canada. They have already written some of the articles. Of course, the sports section was the first one to be written, and it is already finished. There is also a section on Palestine, and soon, the section on education will also be completed. I instructed the boys to take pictures of the most important places in the camp. I told them that this was their opportunity to show Canadians what Wavel camp was like, and how the lives of their friends and families in the camp unfold. I handed them a disposable camera, and we were off. The boys wanted to take pictures of the mosque first, but the gates were closed, and they were not satisfied with the view afforded through the gate. Before I realised what was happening, they were knocking on the door of a house adjacent to the mosque, and we were climbing to the roof to get a better view. The second picture we took was that of the UNRWA school. The boys then led me through the maze of alleyways out of the camp, to take pictures of, what else, but the recently constructed football field, where teams from the camp play against teams from the neighbouring towns. Of course, all of the boys wanted their picture taken on the field. We then took photos of the health clinic, the cemetery, and climbed onto another roof to take bird’s-eye view pictures of the entire camp. Nabil wanted to take a photo of his house, and soon enough, we were stopping by everyone’s house to take a picture. Everyone was surprised and saddened by how quickly the film ran out. They boys brought me to a photo shop where the film could be developed, and I dropped it off. The boys were disappointed that they would have to wait a few days before seeing the pictures. They enjoyed the experience, and were exited that people in Canada would see their camp, their mosque, their school, and of course, their football field. I was grateful for the tour of the camp that I unintentionally received!

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