“Give them a book and they will hold books; give them a weapon and they will hold weapons.”
Lebanon. People with heartbreaking stories, living in places with breathtaking views. Sunni, Alawite, Orthodox, Maronite villages scattered across Akkar. A country in mourning following a catastrophic explosion, a revolution ongoing to demand a functioning democracy. French, the language of the colonizer, spoken in public schools; Arabic, the language of home, in more dialects than you could count, spoken everywhere else. Students and teachers, refugees and Lebanese, homes in houses, apartments, garages, tents.
This has been life for the past month and a half.
And I absolutely love it.
In case you didn’t know, I’m currently living and working in Akkar, Lebanon, as a volunteer assistant with Relief & Reconciliation for Syria. This organization combines peace-building and humanitarian aid in response to the Syrian crisis. I’ve gotten to help with educational, psychosocial, and emergency assistance programs for both Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities in Akkar, the poorest region of Lebanon. I’ve been living at the Peace Center in Bkarzla since early July, and now, I want to share a little bit about what I’ve been up to!
We started off with two weeks of training/quarantine for the newly arrived volunteers. There are four of us, all in our twenties: Lea from Switzerland, Livia from Italy, Clément from France, and me. R&R staff members Friedrich and Mohamad taught us about various topics, such as the work of R&R, orientalism, the conflicts of the Levantine coast, decolonizing humanitarian aid, and education in emergencies—just to name a few! It was definitely information overload, but I’m immensely grateful to serve with an organization that really tries to get it right, not just show up with good intentions and hope everything goes well.
After training, we had two main projects: a music workshop and a summer camp. The music workshop brought together musicians from around north Lebanon to learn from each other, jam together, and compose pieces for the summer camp. Then, we put on the fifth annual summer mountain camp for kids from all four communities we serve. Although corona threw some wrenches in our plans, we were able to have four summer camp days, one for each community. I was unfortunately sick for most of the summer camp, but I did get to participate in the last day. We played games, danced and sang, swam, and went on a scavenger hunt themed after the four elements and saving the environment. The kids really enjoyed it, and I’d say the volunteers did, too!
Once summer camp was over, we jumped right in to classes and educational activities. Right now, I’m teaching one beginner’s English class to adult women from one of the camps, and one conversational English class to young adults, mostly from Mishmish, Akkar. I adore teaching! The students are resilient, determined, and enthusiastic about learning. The women in the beginner class truly don’t speak a word of English, so it turned out to be good Arabic practice for me, too. The Mishmish students already speak a basic level, so we can do fun activities with them, like setting up a “shop” so they can practice vocabulary and expressions related to buying and selling. We’re hoping to continue these classes for the next few weeks leading up to the school year.
The main challenge right now is adapting to ever-changing coronavirus conditions. In the time since I’ve arrived, the country has bounced back and forth twice between lockdown and open for business. I had to take a COVID test at the airport and another when I was sick; both were thankfully negative. The pandemic is being handled very differently here than in the States, with much less mask-wearing and lockdown measures that aren’t nearly as strict. R&R is trying all sorts of new things to continue classes and other activities, but safely and responsibly. I’m grateful to be here during this time and help the organization rise to the challenge.
I appreciate everyone’s support, prayers, and encouragement from back home. I definitely feel them; whether it’s a moment of peace after a stressful day, healing from whatever strange sickness I had, or daily activities running smoothly, I can absolutely tell that I am being prayed for and thought of. Thank you to everyone who’s a part of my incredible support system! I dearly miss and love you all. And thanks to everyone for reading this post! Stay tuned for more updates about life in Lebanon.