It has been two weeks since the Autumn-term volunteers of 2019 came together at the R&R Peace Centre. We had spent the first week getting to know one another and the history of the organisation. As volunteers, we all have our own reasons for joining this not-for-profit, we all come from different backgrounds and lifestyles. However, there is one commonality between all of us, that being, we all have the desire to serve in humanitarian aid.
Having good intentions to create change in the current Syrian crisis is far from easy or practical. Lebanon also holds the highest number of refugees per capita in the world, which increases demand for resources and services for both the Syrians and the inhabitants of the host country, Lebanon. Furthermore, Lebanon is currently facing an uproar of its own against its failing governmental system. If you have been watching the news closely, you will know that the current tension between the Lebanese community and the governmental system is one that has been building since the civil war. In most recent discussions, tensions escalated due to the increase in taxes, high rate of unemployment, lack of public healthcare, the garbage crisis and the recent wildfire epidemic which highlighted Lebanon’s lack of disaster management protocols. The new youth of Lebanon have lost patience and are protesting for their rights. Different sects of social class, religion and political parties are uniting hand in hand with one chanting word, ‘revolution.’ And amongst the chaos on the streets are those who have no voice at all, the displaced Syrians who fled their hometowns during their own civil war.
I discussed the topic of the current Lebanese revolution with a local Syrian family yesterday afternoon, ‘…how do you feel about the protests taking place?’ The husband and wife both shared positive views on what has been happening in Lebanon, stating that ‘I wish we could have done the same in Syria. It is great to see people raising their voices against the government.’
Entering such a sensitive and complicated situation, I learnt that the first step of humanitarian aid is to simply understand the context. I came into this volunteer position with good intentions to serve those in need. However, in order to truly support these vulnerable families and their hosting communities, I must first foster relationships and earn their trust. On our very first day of introduction week, our Director Friedrich Bokern invited us to meet our neighbours. Being of Lebanese descent, I understand the importance of some Lebanese social protocols, visiting your neighbours being one of them. The Syrian communities that R&R work closely with reside in a small Maronite village called Bkarzala, not so far from the main city of Akkar. Bkarzala has a personality of its own, almost everyone knows each other and us foreign volunteers tend to stick out like a sore thumb. With that being said, R&R has done tremendous work to build rapport with the locals and it was obvious how well R&R was respected from day one. As we entered the home of the first neighbour, we greeted the hosts and introduced ourselves. We were offered a choice of tea or coffee along with some biscuits and chocolates. I learnt that the local community find it fascinating to see a colourful collective of volunteers enter their humble village every seasonal term. They build friendships with the volunteers and share ideas and traditions, almost like a cultural exchange. As we said our goodbyes and made our way outside, the hosts followed us to the street and waved goodbye. Friedrich informed us how it is a requirement for the Lebanese to accompany their guests down to the street to say their farewells.
As we waved goodbye to our first neighbour, we continued down the street to another neighbouring home and we were welcomed with another kind offering of kahwa wala shay (tea or coffee). As the days went by, we continued to build relationships with local neighbours and families over many tea and coffees, and with an overdose of caffeine, I have begun to understand this town and the stories behind it.
Ultimately, R&R was formed several years ago to unite different communities around one common cause, the future of the youth. With that picture in mind, I begin this journey with hopeful intentions to empower the Syrian youth, who despite all their hardships, always greet us with robust energy and smiles.