Thanks to Salma El-Yassir the director of Welfare Association Lebanon Branch (WA-LB), I visited Burj El Barajneh Refugee Camp in Beirut. I visited to support the launch of a Youth Employment Service (YES) Program. To promote the project among camp residences, WA-LB commissioned Graffiti artist Yazan to work with camp residences to create an attraction for youth.
YES will have a profound impact on youth in the camp, and I’ll dedicate a post to it at a later date. What I’m sharing is what struck me as a desperate need by youth in the camps to connect with those of us outside. I’m sharing a story and calling for action for those outside the camp who can inspire, mentor, uplift, to support. We only conserve what we love. We only love what we know… here’s what I saw and heard:
As we walked through increasingly narrow alley ways lined with trash I wondered how it was possible to dream of another reality. Not a single street was paved. I glimpsed a person in a wheelchair at his front door and wondered how he moved around in the camp. Alleys are too narrow for a wheelchair, have steep inclines, sharp turns. But what is most striking is the exposed and extremely dangerous electrical and water pipes.
Mohamad our guide explained “if one wire gets cut, the entire neighborehood goes dark. neighbores go out with candles and torches to find their wires and reactivate them. At times we have week long blackouts. Students are forced to study on candlelight. When there’s a surge of water in the pipes, they burst. located next to the wire mesh, you get an electric shower. these allies become inaccessible. In 2012 14 young men had died by electrocution. The last one was a person the entire camp loved. He was a good man who rallied residence to volunteer and better their community. During his funeral, his friends and loved ones took an oath to prevent such tragic deaths. Me and a few other young volunteers erected homemade troughs around areas of the camp. The project is still ongoing, we only finished a few areas of the camp.”
We are all influenced by our surroundings. We see beauty and it reflects within. Nature heals. When we gaze at the horizon, look out at a green mountain, a blue ocean, even a tall beautiful building or an urban garden, we get our inspirations. In Burj Al Barajneh, there are areas where you cannot see sunlight.
Mohamad’s dedication to keep his environment safe, but like all of us, he gets discouraged by the mounting obstacles. He adds, “many of us don’t have jobs, we spend our days pounding the pavement looking for work, we come home to an electric shower in the ally, by the time we fix this, or clear that, it is 11pm. our frustrations, added to that of our families who live in this confine leaves us all in a hopeless state. Yet we wake up the next morning, and push forward. It is what we must do to survive and give our children better lives.”
In life we all need support. We have our internal drive, and need external support to keep us motivated, feeling appreciated, remind us that we are doing well and should persevere. The visiting team offers Mohamad words of encouragement, appreciation, respect, admiration for his courage and determination. Appreciation reminds him of what an amazing job he’s doing. The Welfare Association does its part. They offer through programs like YES job opportunities.
More is needed. It isn’t finance. It is human connections that compels youth to imagine a different reality. Mohamad and other young men/women in refugee camps need acknowledgement appreciation and encouragement . Young men and women, businessman/woman must visit and offer moral support, encouragement, ideas for making camps a better reality. If every individual took a half a day to engage with young men like Mohamad can you imagine how encouraging that would be? how much impact that would have on his life? Connect. Engage. Inspire.
“Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them.” – Mother Teresa