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دعناية Syrian refugee camp

January 26, 2014

Whilst visiting family in Beirut, I was invited by a friend, Rabih Shibli, to visit one of the many Syrian refugee camps he and his team have been working on in Lebanon. Rabih runs a team at the department of Centre for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) at the American University of Beirut (AUB). I was curious to explore as I’ve wanted to run a pilot initiative for children there; workshops to service as an expressive and therapeutic outlet as well as instilling basic life skills relating to developing awareness of self and others, communication skills etc.

I joined a small CCECS team to De3naye Refugee camp in the Bekka Valley, stretching along the length of Lebanon to the East.  As the team went about their business, checking-up on newly installed toilet cubicles (yet to function without running water) and registering family members for clothes distribution, I chatted to the kids. I wouldn’t go into the terrible conditions of the campsite, with no electricity, running water, simple tents with minimal isolation from the chill of the mountainous air. Nor will I go into the strain this refugee crisis has had on Lebanon’s already unstable political and economic state, and the intrinsic politics and competition between the many, many NGOs, and the non-existent communication between local governors and NGOs/ charities functioning in the region.

I just spoke to the children, who quickly congregated around the team. I asked where they played, and they took me to a vacant lot, just opposite the campsite. I asked if they would like to show me some of the games they played, and with no more encouragement, they excitedly played as I photographed and asked questions. I recognised some of the games from my own childhood in Baghdad, like the tunnel/ train: two form an arch (tunnel), and the rest make a line (train) to go the tunnel, at intervals the train is stopped as one child is captured and asked a question by the tunnel; in this case, the trapped child was asked ‘a bowl or a plate?’, and depending on the answer, the child went behind of the two forming the arch. When all the children had chosen sides, then the ends with a tug-of-war.

I enjoyed my position as an outsider, not just as a visitor to the camps, but also as an Iraqi. There has been tension in some of the camps, between the neighbouring Lebanese host communities and those from the camps.Because of my Arabic accent, I am immediately asked where I am from, particularly by the adults, so I was glad to steer away from choosing sides.

Syrian Camp Di3naye (10.01.14) 433

Syrian Camp Di3naye (10.01.14) 427

Syrian Camp Di3naye (10.01.14) 429

Syrian Camp Di3naye (10.01.14) 430

When talking to some to the adults. One parent, after tearfully sharing the difficulties she goes through on a daily basis, said: ‘We have so many foreigners who come over to take photographs and they promise this and that… and they all look so miserable. Their faces are so glum. So, if you don’t mind my saying, it is so nice to have you here, creating this merry atmosphere with the kids!’

I find it quite ironic that a refugee complains of the miserable appearance of their aid workers. This is why I find myself yapping on about my work being distinct from ‘charity’, as I feel the latter inevitably objectifies the very people targeted. There is an element of self-righteousness that I feel uncomfortable with. This inevitably applies to therapist-client and doctor-patient relationships. I work with those I want, and feel the need, to learn from. It is an exchange, a dialogue, and I hope, a valuable experience to be had by all parties involved. I trust that this is the attitude of the majority working in the Not-for-profit sector, and that my perceptions is more to do with public attitudes than those on-the-ground working on causes they believe in.

Nothing has come yet of my plans to work with these children, although I hear some of the biggest NGOs are about to put similar schemes into action, so that’s great news!

Syrian Camp Di3naye (10.01.14) 504

Syrian Camp Di3naye (10.01.14) 472

Syrian Camp Di3naye (10.01.14) 491

Syrian Camp Di3naye (10.01.14) 479

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2 Comments
  1. zuzu permalink

    It is ironic that camp residents complain that visitors are glum -they are because of what they see, the inhuman conditions of some of the camps. I find it interesting that you make the distinction between charity and the creative art therapy work you do; there is room for both. I hope you get the funding and come and work with those kids. They need you -as do M&M

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