The INMA Volunteer Experience

When we arrived in Beirut we were still not sure what to expect. We knew we would be working with kids in a Palestinian refugee camp – but that was about it.

The first impression as we walked into the camp was of an incredible web of electrical wires and water pipes haphazardly strung up above the maze of narrow alleyways (we later learned that power and water cuts are frequent and that every year people are electrocuted in the camp.) It was a typical sunny summers day in Beirut but the camp seemed starved of sunlight and fresh air; the homes dark and dingy. We did a double- take upon seeing the local armed plain-clothes militiamen patrolling the streets. Apparently there are at least 15 different factions in the camp.

Not knowing much about the Palestinian refugee situation here, we were shocked and dismayed to learn that these people have no legal status to work. There is therefore very little incentive to gain an education and many people live in poverty. Generations have passed since the first refugees arrived, and with no end in sight to the situation its not surprising that there is such a lack of hope in the camp.

We meet with three of INMA’s local Palestinian employees – Eman, Hoda and NajaH – who live and work in the camp. Friendly and motivated these young women are critical to the success of the programme. We were immediately impressed by INMA’s practice of empowering local people to run the programme.

The next day we distributed some donated meat to needy families around the camp. This was a chance to see more of the camp and meet a few of the families. Everyone was friendly and appreciative of the meat – a little bit goes a long way in the camp.

The first week we helped a group from Canada paint a house for a particularly needy family in the camp. The house was very dark, dirty and generally in very poor condition. There was water all over the kitchen floor due to poor plumbing and loads of huge cockroaches lived in the cupboards. This caused more than one of our group to scream and squeal in horror. We got to work cleaning the house and put a new coat of paint on the walls. We left it looking so much better than it was and the fresh white paint made it look a lot lighter. However, we did wonder how long it would stay looking this good.

When we first met the children (aged 5 – 10) they were a little shy and us not speaking the same language made communication difficult. However, with lots of hand gestures, a smattering of badly spoken Arabic and just getting down and playing Lego with them, it did not take long for us to break the ice. Kids are kids and as we got to know them and started learning their names they became less shy and started to interact with us more and more. It was good having both of us there as the girls naturally drew closer to Kerry and the boys to Matt.

It was clear right from the start that they really loved doing all of the activities offered at the Kids Club, including crafts, games, food design, singing, circle time, Lego and sports. We wonder how much opportunity they get to do this sort of stuff at home as many of them struggle with basic motor skills when doing the crafts. This was also apparent with sports – things that we would take for granted from kids this age, these ones seemed to struggle with. A difficult reminder that there is really nowhere for kids to run around and play in the camp; they really hadn’t ever done things like play leap-frog or dodge-ball before.

On Fridays we take the kids and some of their mothers to the river. This is an absolute highlight of theweek for everyone. As the bus pulls out of the camp the music is turned up very loud and the children, mothers and teachers all start singing, clapping and dancing for the entire journey. Party central on the bus. Arriving at the river the children love swimming, running, playing on the swings, kicking a ball around and just enjoy having a lot more space than in the camp.

Since we have arrived we have also tried to gain an understanding of the complex historical, political, religious and social reasons for the Palestinian refugee situation in Lebanon. It is frustratingly clear there is no easy solution. However, we have seen first hand the good work the Kids Club does in putting hope and light in to the lives of the children and their mothers. It certainly puts a smile onto their faces.

The INMA foundation is also involved in promoting dialogue at a big picture level, which is very important and closely compliments the hands-on work it does.

Matthew and Kerry Cole

A visit to the Refugee camp in Beirut

Almost every week I host visitors from around the world who heard about our work in the Refugee camps. A few weeks ago Mark came and I asked him if you would write his experience so we could publish it on this site. I think it says a lot. Thank you Mark!

Robert

“My travels have taken me across the world and to a variety of locations.
I’ve seen impoverished parts of china, aftermath of war in the Congo,
under resourced inner city US, and Nicaraguan refugee settlements in San
Jose, Costa Rica.  Many tough spots, to be sure, but despite
difficulties, there was always the promise of relief followed by
rehabilitation and development.  When I first heard of the plight of the
Palestinians in camps within Lebanon, and heard it associated with long
term relief, I immediately doubted what I was hearing and assumed that
there was some poor analysis going on.

So we arrived at the camp on a Monday am.  We heard the news that the
Lebanese do not/will not exercise any police control within the camps.
We had been told about the lack of legal status of the
Palestinians–that they cant work, own property, or leave the country.
But it doesn’t really mean anything until walking around in the middle
of the day.  Yes, there is a local economy within the camp and folks
buying and selling products.  But aside from this retail, there’s lots
of folks just sitting around.  Don’t they have options?  Yes, work
illegally outside of camp and be taken advantage of by employers looking
for cheap labor.  But maybe this will improve in the next generation?
Wait, it’s been this way for 60 years? All because my relatives decided
to go north to Lebanon instead of south to Jordan?  Wait, my kids and
their kids have this to look forward to?  Being taken care of by the UN
for the rest of my life?  Not being able to work and provide for my
family?  Well, maybe I should focus on my education?  So that I can be
taken care of by the UN for the rest of my life?

Well, maybe it’s not so bad.  The water is full of lead leading to long
term health issues, the electrical system is intermingled with the water
system (safety seems overrated), and when we have more family members,
we’ll keep building upwards without building codes, insuring disaster
and structural failure down the road.

I need to be honest here–I’m a glass half full person. But  I left the
camp wondering what hope exists for these people.  Really.  I think of
all the things I do in a day–all of the opportunity–and I scratch my
head asking myself what can I offer as hope to this desperate situation.
Of course, Jesus.  But these folks can’t hear about Jesus, because Jesus
is associated with Christianity, and the west, and it’s the west who has
empowered Israel that started their problems–and we wonder why they
might be angry?

But then I’m reminded that God is present in this camp, sustaining life.
I’ve never encountered something like this, and I’m thankful that there
are Muslims and Christians working together to give “a cup of cold
water” to these folks with an amazingly difficult situation and little
hope of change.  God is there–I’m thankful that folks following Jesus
are working to bring the kingdom of God to earth, however difficult it
may seem.

Mark”

Eye Surgery Clinic – Beirut, Lebanon

Our International team ov Doctors and Volunteers

On Sunday May 8th until Tuesday May 10th we will have another eye surgery clinic in Mohammed Khalid Social Foundations in Qouzai. INMA Foundation is responsible for all the details of this wonderful program that has been a blessing for so many. Our international team of volunteers will, together with many nationals, aim to bring people from many communities in Lebanon together as this Peace-Building initiative is one of our most effective and long-lasting projects. As we see that Maronites, Shiites, Sunni’s and people from all other religious sects have in common that they develop Cataract, we can step in and serve without making any distinction between them. Do you know someone with a mature Cataract? Bring them to our clinic! We hope to see you, and if not now, may be another time!

For Information call 71139381

For INMA Foundation,

Robert Pelgrim