A Christmas Gift from Maria

Maria’s smile was the best gift I received this Christmas.  Maria is seven years young.  She can’t wait to go the USA, so she can run and play with other kids like she used to.  Five months ago she was walking with her mom in their neighborhood in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria when a bullet entered her shoulder and lodged in her spine.

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Her family sought refuge in Lebanon.  They live in an abandoned building. No electricity. The own two mattresses, three blankets and a wheelchair aside from the clothes on their back.

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The family greeted us with smiles that warmed the freezing room.  Maria spoke as she shivered: “My mother tells me stories, I cannot go to school, they don’t have a place for me. I get bored, so my father takes me on the chair to watch other kids run. I know I will have a surgery and get better and run again. When am I going to America to get my bullet out?”

As we walked out of their home, Mohamad, her father says there’s another family who needs your help.  A young mother appears with her three children; Mohamad the eldest was at home when a shell hit their house, killing his grandfather and tearing through his hands.

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“They are in good shape” says Mohamad, The PCRF Lebanon Missions Manager. “On your next visit, we will go to the Ba’kaa where a tent is the only shelter those families have”.

Every day I am reminded of how rich my life is with friends, loved ones, amazing work, and health.  Today, was a special reminder. On a day when people share gifts, feast and celebrate, I received a heart warming smile from a seven year old who has nothing. I felt touched by an angel.

If you would like to help provide medical treatment to Maria, Mohamad and other children like them please visit http://www.pcrf.net

If you would like to support families like Maria and Mohamad’s family, please visit https://www.justgiving.com/live2give

Refugees don’t need money, they need engagement!

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

 

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Giving beyond reason

Today felt heavy. I woke up at dawn, and prayed for the life of Amir Bedier. A man I had only heard of yesterday, when his brother and my friend Ahmed sent out this message: “Urgent please make dua for my brother Amir, who was just shot in the chest inside the Rabaa protest in Cairo.”

Moments after prayer, another message came through: “My brother Amir Bedier has returned to Our Lord. To Allah we belong and to Allah is the return. Amir was shot and killed by Egyptian police forces in Rabaa square today. We are proud of him and his courage to stand up for his beliefs and the rights of others. He was fasting and unarmed. He left behind a wife, two children, five brothers and his two parents and countless relatives and friends who loved him.”

A stream of condolences followed.

“إنا لله و إنا إليه راجعون”.. “we are for Allah and for Allah we shall return”. The only consoling words. We are all destined for death.

My thoughts were on his children and widow, and the heart wrenching pain they are feeling and will feel for years to come. I felt the emptiness and loneliness they will experience when the anger and sadness lifts and they realize he is gone forever. His seat at dinner is empty, he’s not there to take them to Friday prayer or school Parent conferences.  Seeing fathers supporting their children, hugging them, even reprimanding them becomes all they see around.  Thoughts of “what would he have done” become questions that can never be answered.

The events of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Palestine are tragic. They are creating generations of orphans who are left with an emptiness that can never be filled. Their childhoods are scarred.  Their psychology and emotional state is forever altered.  Their economic status will never be the same. For many, they are catapulted into poverty.

It is the way of the world, and there will be a tomorrow. A tomorrow with orphans places an added responsibility on the rest of society; on us.. me and you…

a responsibility  to give beyond reason,

to obsess about their rights and privileges,

to include their plans in our personal, family and community plans.

We must remember them when we are celebrating because they have non to celebrate with,

when we are traveling and they are unable to leave their camps or disadvantaged lives,

when put up our billboards forgetting the messages on it is only reminder of what’s beyond their reach,

when we embrace mother’s day and they are left to contemplate their missing loved ones.

I write this post as a declaration of what I am committed to, and a reminder to those who care to have a peaceful balanced world.  The emotional and economic deficit born in the lives of orphans is our collective responsibility.  Their security is the accountability of each and every one of us.

May Allah bless Amir Bedier and have mercy on his soul.  May Allah give us the courage to do what is unreasonable for his children.

#live2give

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Once upon a school – Betine

Iqra Learning Center - Palestine

Spending 4 hours on the King Hussein border can be beneficial after all! I met a Palestinian-American (Wissam) who was visiting Palestine to evaluate a unique social initiative a friend of his started. We talked briefly, and met later in Ramallah.  Amal came with Wissam and took me on a tour of  the “Iqra Learning Center” in her husband’s hometown Batin.

When Amal moved to the West Bank from Fredrick MD. she saw a lot of kids roaming the streets of the village.. kids who should have been at school.  She learned that due to over populated classrooms, learning disabilities and their “special needs” they weren’t able to stay in school. Having seen many special ed programs in the US, she converted her garage to a tutoring center.

Her approach had such a positive impact, kids told their friends, who brought others and she ended up with three garages full of students.  Amal and her husband reached out to the community, got teachers, supplies and ran the program for the past two years.  She supported 100 students. Most are children of framers who cannot afford to pay and offer olive oil instead.

Today, 175 more students are wait-listed.  Amal rented out a larger space and is determined to continue her tutoring program.  Amal needs school supplies, furniture, books and computers.

Thirsting For Justice | Palestinian Right to Water & Sanitation

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A few years ago I read Blue Gold. I was stunned by facts on water shortage and the imminent “water wars” that were facing the region.

No where is this more apparent than conflict zones. Thirsting for Justice  highlights issues around water security in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and lobbies governments globally to support Palestinians’ right to water.

Reading Blue Gold lead me to work with a couple of innovative social entrepreneurs working on water conservation projects.

It is our collective responsibility to educate ourselves on the issues, and find solutions to address them.

Here are a few Links to get you started.

If you have ideas you’d like to share on the matter, please share.

 

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#way2gaza launch

Here it is.. the WAY 2 Gaza campaign..

The WAY 2 Gaza is PEACE / Education / Youth / Collaboration .. Victory through community support of programs that matter.  Mustaqbali is a program that matters.  The Welfare Association Youth members are rallying behind the program to support brothers ans sisters in Gaza benefiting from Mustaqbali. Their goal is to raise awareness,  generate global interest in the program and connect with you with youth in Gaza.

You can join and show your support through social media.

  • Change your avatar photo to a picture of you showing us your peace / victory sign
  • Use one of our avatars
  • Change your cover photo
  • Share links to the WAY site and invite others to join the campaign.

A special thanks to Issa Al-Kindy for the amazing photos & Nermeen Abudail for the brand & identity.

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