I am still in doubt if we passed through Lebanon or if they were cheating me and we’re in Brazil. The connection was so big that it’s hard to explain.
For Fe and I, who in the last months have learned even more to valorise generous acts and unpretentious smiles, Lebanon gave us the impression of being that comfortable hug, that welcomes and relaxes the heart, you know?
Thanks to our dear friend, Silvia Prada, we had the privilege of meeting her aunt, Helen, a Brazilian who has been living in Beirut for more than fourteen years and since the beginning accepted to take care of two more nephews for the next few days.
Lebanon calls the attention for its charming landscapes, people’s kindness and for carrying deep scars from the armed conflicts. To have an idea, nowadays the country is home for more than two million refugees, amidst Syrians and Palestinians, and also shows an apparent social inequality between their own Lebanese people.
With Helen’s support we could feel the country and discover stories of faith, hope and dedication.
The first of them was in a poor neighbourhood of Beirut, where Sister Aida, a nun from the Catholic Church who leads the Centre Social Des Soeurs du Bon Pasteur, that offers extra classes for more than 120 children, including Lebanese and refugees from Syria and Iraq. Helen contributes with collections and donations that help to maintain the project.
Sister Aida received us in a peaceful mood that we only find in more evolved beings and made us understood the meaning of the word compassion. She, catholic, dedicates herself in educating Syrian children, who are majorly Muslims.
There is nothing more humble than recognizing the existence of others, respect it and work for the dignity of those who have absolutely nothing material to give back. I like a lot a quote that says “your nature is measured by the way you treat the ones who don’t bring you any benefit”.
Sister Aida, more than that, showed us that practicing religion, whichever it is, when it make us tools for seeding peace, love, generosity and simplicity is the true manifestation of God through us. Anything that runs away from that and supports discriminatory, prejudicial and intolerants acts is not religion, but the manifestation of ego and vain. Who truly comprehends the meaning of God, works only for the valuable dignity which enables you to be who you are allowing others to be themselves as well.
This lesson was just warming us up for all the other that would come afterwards.
In the next day we visited a Palestinian refugee camp, Shatila, in Beirut. The camp rose up just after the beginning of the war in 1948 (when Israel took Palestinian lands) and today it’s like a district of the city. There is around thirty thousand people living there with scarcity of resources, lack of opportunities to work and study and harvesting the hope to go back home one day.
We visited the project Dreams of Refugee Association created by five Palestinian youngsters who were born in the camp and realized they could do much more for their people. With the help of the community and donations from outside, Tarek and his friends founded a kindergarten that today received more than 230 children, including Syrians, who went with their families just after the beginning of the war in 2011. Like Sister Aida, Tarek reinforces that “doing good and not looking to whom” is the only way to thrive. Today, thank to this initiative, Syrian and Palestinian children study and live together in harmony.
He was also responsible for one of the most thrilling stories I’ve heard so far that still brings tears to my eyes every time I remember it.
When he was talking about the successful activities of the project, he also said they had made the biggest key in the world. “The world’s biggest key? How was that?”
He kept explaining that when the war started in 1948, Palestinian people didn’t have other chance besides just leaving their houses and wait for the calming water. It was a matter of life or death.
By that time millions of Palestinian, including Tarek’s grandfather, locked their doors and ran away with their families and the clothes they were using. They expected that that would have an end and kept the house keys for the right moment to get back.
Today, 2015, the right moment still didn’t come and to honour millions of Palestinian that were obligated to rebuild their lives, hoping to have them back one day, a huge key was put together using the old keys which are still kept waiting for the moment to open a door for a new future.
This thrilling story told by Tarek became to me the purest and truthful definition of a refugee: fight and hope. This same story make me think about what moves the government chiefs to put themselves against the life of thousands of people with the only purpose of keeping and increasing their power. Guys, our home is our world… it seems utopia, but if each one of us stop to think about it, we could have a significant chance to face racial, social, religious and territorial segregation from another perspective, more humanized and spiritualized.
But when we threaten to lose hope with the cruelty of the human being, we meet more projects and more people that remember us that our nature is love, even if some people still haven’t being practicing with much enthusiasm.
Especially in this mood we met the amazing Nimat Bizri, a lady full of energy and who represents the beauty and lightness of the women’s power.
For years Nimat has been taking part of social projects, but it was three years ago that she started her biggest legacy. Touched by the situation of millions of Syrian children that don’t stop to arrive in the country, she articulated with the municipality of the city of Bekaa to use public schools to receive these children.
During the morning the schools receive the Lebanese students and in the afternoon the Syrians. The costs with teachers’ salary, uniforms and supplies are totally sponsored by Nimat through the donations she collects. The annual cost to maintain a school – nowadays there are three of them – is US$ 150K. There are almost two thousand students, from seven to eighteen years old, benefited with this initiative and who don’t need to pay absolutely nothing to go to school, to have bags, books, notebooks, pens, clothes and shoes.
With Nimat and Helen we visited the three schools, watched a choir, interrupted history classes and played “ciranda” (a traditional Brazilian folk song) during the break.
As every inspiring woman, Nimat got very upset when she saw one of the girls cleaning the courtyard and suspected that her mother, who works for the school, is pushing her daughter to odd jobs to increase the family income. Nimat got red and with a steady voice started talking something in Arabian to the presumed negligent mom. I didn’t understand, but I could feel the vibration and the indignation of a woman who, as so many others around the world, believes that education is the only way out for a future far from poverty.
We comeback from this experience impressed with the energy and will of people like Nimat, Sister Aida, Tarek and Helen, who truly dedicate themselves to blow new winds to the life of who is living without many expectations. Each one in his own way.
Lebanon, through these different people, revealed the truthful meaning of SERVING.
In a country full of contrasts, mixes and inequalities, the ordinary people are the ones who, opposing the rigidity and insensibility of who only seeks for power, put themselves as servants to those in need, with humility and generosity to give a breath of dignity to the ones who have nothing but hope.
We departed from Lebanon felling that we always can do more and, inspired by them, we concluded that serving others is the best and simplest way to discover the best of us. Our best is the key to open the door to a lot of people, including ourselves.
Note: Whoever wants to contribute with these projects, send us an email through the website, please.