What I have learned from my visit to Lebanon

Thursday 27 December 2018

As a student from London, the problems of the world, while present in my mind, are often distant in their impact. Headlines constantly remind me of all the atrocities that the world manages to conjure up, and all of the response programmes put in place, and yet never have they truly impacted me on a day-to-day scale. There is often a guilt associated with safety, one that pushes you to try and act, try to get involved with a major issue, and do your small part in improving the situation. And yet, in a world riddled with problems, where do you start?


For me, the choice stared me in the face: Lebanon. My grandfather left Armenia as a nine-year-old boy in 1916, fleeing the atrocities there. He arrived as a child in Lebanon, and was taken in and cared for. It was here that he lived out the rest of his life, marrying and raising his children, one of whom was my father.


As a tribute to my family’s past, I thought it to be appropriate to return back to my father’s homeland, and work to help those people who are now in the same position that my grandfather was, over 100 years ago. What better organisation to work with than Save the Children, and their operations to assist Syrian Refugees in Bekaa, just 30 minutes away from the Syrian border.


Never before had I worked with any NGOs, or charity organisations, so working with Save the Children was an entirely new experience. It would be a lie to say ‘I had no idea what to expect’, as footage of the horrors of the crisis is, rightfully, inescapable. I was, however, working in a department that I was not familiar with: Media, Advocacy and Communications (MAC). The work of MAC is to broadcast the voices of the voiceless, and provide footage and stories from the field, to the public.


A highlight of the experience was visiting Save the Children’s Early Childhood Care and Development classes. Smiles. Laughs. Games. Dances. Not words that you would instantly associate with Syrian children in Lebanon. Words that would not be said if not for the work of Save the Children. Visiting the Early Childhood classes in Beirut was a heart-warming experience. To see children who have undoubtedly suffered throughout the early year of their lives smiling was a reminder of the importance of the work by Save the Children. The children seemed full of hope, optimistic about their futures, and most importantly, they had a chance, a chance to actually live, rather than survive. All of the damage inflicted on these children is out of their hands. They are truly powerless to stop the forces that tear apart their lives, and therefore deserve the utmost attention and care as they recover, healing psychological wounds they have received from a source that is alien to them.


The school that I visited was remarkable. Despite visiting in summer, when fewer students are present, I was able to get a feel of the day to day functions of the institution. The organisation, cleanliness and warmth of the school allowed for effective learning to take place, and the teachers seemed enthusiastic, and truly caring. At the school, hope was visualised, hope was made concrete, physical and tangible. There is an end goal. All of the staff were fully optimistic, and highly approachable, allowing the students (aged 3-6) to feel comfortable, and, most importantly, happy. The class activities were all interactive, and all-inclusive, allowing every child to get their chance as independence and praise - nobody was left behind. Some students were quieter than others, some less vocal. A new school is, after all, intimidating for anyone. But a child who is coming from a conflict zone will certainly feel a sense of internal confusion and panic, for that is, unfortunately, all they have known. Being thrown into new environments day after day is a highly jarring and damaging experience, and turning up to school may, again, feel just like that. But over time, they will feel and appreciate the love and care of those around them, and understand that they are now safe. 


But I was not aimlessly wandering. Not only was I given the task of reporting what I experienced but I was also in charge of managing the organisation’s social media - a fundamental duty of the MAC department. I took pictures and videos of the school to be posted on the Save the Children Lebanon Instagram account. Having the ability to broadcast what I was seeing was highly rewarding, as it allowed not only me to see these children reach a point of happiness, but also allowed others to see it.


Arguably the most memorable day of the experience was visiting a family in Bekaa. Adel, aged 67, is undoubtedly one of the strongest and most resilient people I have ever met. Despite all obstacles thrown his way - having to leave home, lose all possessions, lose his leg and support his family - he lives on, facing each day, taking each hit and moving forward. His actions humbled me; they made me realise the scale of problems that people we’ve never met go through each day. His face is one of many, his story is one of many. Can we meet everyone? No. But meeting only one man and his family puts the entire atrocity into perspective - on a human level. One must see eyes, his skin, his hands, and not only statistics and reports. Being in the same room as one hero amounts to hours’ worth of news coverage.


What did I learn overall? This world is riddled with problems, and it is impossible for one person to solve all of them. However, I believe if each person tackles at least one issue that is relevant to them, the world may be able to heal itself. Yes, in an ideal world, we would all tackle any issue, but the world doesn’t always work that way. We don’t all seem to be able to wholeheartedly support any cause. But we can get behind a cause that means something to us, and if each person acts, the world may just heal.