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Support Network

With one week remaining, Project Lead, Tara Jaffar, reflects on various elements supporting IamResilience Lebanon, a joint project between Meryna and CCECS, AUB.

And so I fell off the blogpost wagon, but with one week left of IamResilience Lebanon, I want to share a few words, particularly on the topic of support.

Volunteers

I gave a short and informal presentation about IamR’s current work to Lebanese youth organisation LoYAC, after a friend, Suad Amin-Jarrar, put me in touch to potentially invite more volunteers to help in the second cycle of works. I still had Hana Nimer, volunteering once a week, as she had done in the first cycle, though with three workshops per site-visit for some 55 children and my already feeling drained, I knew I needed more help.

At LoYAC, we sat in a circle on the floor, in an open office, with others at their desks, and I heard about why these young people want to do ‘community service’; I then shared some of what Meryna does, more on IamR, a little about the approach, we even had a brief practical demonstration of a sensory awareness exercise. I had arrived straight from camp, and was quite shattered.

The first week back in the second cycle was particularly difficult somehow. I believe largely because I had higher expectations of the work and myself than I had the first time round.

Anyway, seeing these young, enthusiastic and intelligent peeps listening and asking questions, I felt incredibly energised. At the end of the two hours or so together, I had some 15 volunteers on-board.

Sadly, I was unable to accommodate all of them, and I must say, juggling volunteers was a real challenge, though all fell into place after a week, and so last week was one of the most enjoyable and fruitful. Debriefing in the car, on the hour ride from Sarafand to Beirut, I hear feedback from the volunteers about their experiences at the camp. Some had never visited a refugee camp, and others have had considerable experience with other NGO’s, sometimes at the same camp we work in; their comparative feedback has been particularly valuable for this work, as I realised how very different our approach is to what else goes on.

Part Participants

Without training, these young volunteers have been what I termed ‘Part Participants’ in the workshops. Namely, they respectfully interact with the kids, model behaviour in sessions (listening, non-violence, sharing feedback etc), and of course assist practically when I call on them, which can be anything from giving out colouring crayons, to help breaking-up one of the many physical fights between the children.

This is not an easy balance to strike, which has left me particularly admiring of the focus and gentle determination of those willing to help. Violet Oaklander, who’s work I heavily draw from, has an incredibly unconventional way of responding to children, especially in comparison to the standard attitudes in the Middle East, and yet, volunteers noting this difference have been open and questioning in a generous and open way. For example, we do our utmost to listen when a child speaks, and if she has a question, we respond as honestly and openly as possible, rather than patronise, deflect or preach. Sitting alongside, literally and metaphorically, rather than taking the superior position, and at the same time, holding our boundaries (be these personal or/ and professional). Easier said than done. This is ‘the dance’ I wrote about weeks ago, and the volunteers in the last two weeks have been gently swaying to unfamiliar rhythms…

As well as those dancing on-site, I’ve three working off-site to research what human rights this community is entitled to, as there has been confusion about this from both inside and outside the camp. Researching UNHCR and UNICEF policies, local sources etc. is not something I have been able to make time for. This has largely come from concerns in the women’s circle, as mothers worry about the rights of their children, when some are physically abused by the local farmers, and countless NGO’s go to register works when very little work is actually implemented…

IamR volunteers, Hana and Saja, acting as Part-Participants in the creative-therapeutic sessions with the children.

 

LoYAC’s Karim and Mohamed in the Youngest Group’s check-in/introductory circle.

LoYAC’s Saja helping Mahmood with his writing exercise. M has never had formal schooling.

LoYAC’s Hazem and Karim attending to children as they write, sometimes just witnessing and being available is healing in itself.

I’ve never met children so eager to learn. Chaos turns into easy focus for all, regardless of the the level of education.

Using modelling clay to write, as well as make objects.

Farah working with the Middle Group in modelling clay.

LoYAC’s Bushra in the last creative-therapeutic session, working on Ending; ‘what would you say to someone leaving?’ was met with ‘bye!’.

 

Wider Community

These volunteers have been an important symbol of support for the refugee community we work with, not simply for the children but for their parents too.

Noting the new faces, I’m asked about these young Lebanese people: Where are they from? They really commute from Beirut everyday? Why do they come when are not even being paid?

In a paper on the psychosocial dimension of refugees, Renos writes about how support, from the host and wider international community, helps build psychotherapeutic and social resilience. When the people living at the camp, are aware of the current political tensions and economic strain of their existence on their hosts, this show of support can take on additional value.

Financial Support

Not to forget that in the end, without a bit of green support, the best intentions remain just that. A woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, is now sponsoring a host of gift-packs we intend to leave with the community before we depart: creative-educational gift-pack for the children, complete with a mini chalk-board (Hana’s idea), modelling clay (they love this and have had to share meagre portions in the last 10 weeks with us!), colouring pencils and sketchpads, as well as their copybooks with more writing exercises, which I cannot convey how much the kids enjoy; a family gift-pack, with a first aid kit, particularly for the many cuts and grazes the kids collect in the harsh environment of the camp, cleaning tools and detergents (the women spend most of their times hopelessly cleaning their homes, which they admit does little to the dirt floor their tent occupies); finally, a mother-to-be gift-pack, to accommodate four heavily pregnant mothers, and two new moms, with basic baby clothes, as the UNHCR does not provide provisions after the fourth child (arguably, that’s fair).

Finally, a window from Cynthia’s life: some three weeks ago, whilst walking in Beirut, Cynthia Hallaj came across a cash-note of 100,000 Lebanese Lira on the ground, in the street (some $75). Unable to locate its source, she chose to donate her finding to IamR, which for me, came at the end of a day when everything seemed stuck- before the gift of volunteers!

Realistically, 100,000LL is the daily fee we pay our designated driver, Ibrahim, for the commute to-and-fro the camp. Yet it meant so much more than that: A serendipitous moment, from this recent friend’s life, filtered into mine and the community I am working with, as a reminder of the support network out there, without which none of this work would be possible.

Intention and Impact

I also wanted to say thank you to the many individuals who wanted to volunteer, as although I chose to prioritise working/ training LoYAC’s Lebanese youth, I appreciate the expression of support.

And not only volunteers, but the organisation that visited the camp with a hair stylist, to train the women, even though by the time we came up with funding for this, it was already too late to implement. Mind you, these funds are now going towards first aid kits and baby clothes, so it’s nothing has been wasted…

Even though I was unable to take-up all these offers, the intention had a powerful impact.