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

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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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#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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