A visit to Al-Buss and Saida

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with the Loan Project Coordinator of Najdeh, Ms. Yosra Jrad, in Al-Buss camp, located in Tyre (otherwise known as Ṣūr to the Lebanese). I had lost my translator last minute, as her bus broke down on the way to meet me at work, and had to manage with an English teacher from the camp. When I later went over the translated transcripts, the looks of confusion from Ms. Jrad during our interview suddenly made sense. It was clear that the English teacher did not really understand what I was asking and simply improvised all of the questions, leaving me with a very nonsensical transcript.

Luckily all was not lost, as the teacher, along with another Najdeh employee offered to give me a tour of the camp. I was expecting dire conditions, lack of space, wires hanging everywhere, much like my experiences in other camps. However, it was quite the contrary. In fact, Al-Buss camp is one of the cleanest, most spacious camps in Lebanon. Streets are wide, refugees have actual homes with gardens and backyards, there are trees and other greenery and the schools offer children actual places to play and have fun with jungle gyms and toys.

image

image

image

Despite the neighborhood-like aesthetic, there is still much improvement to be made. There are many who suffer from the heat of the summer and cold of the winters, with metal roofs and lack of insulation in homes. The only UNRWA school directly faces a garbage dump in the camp. Initially, there had been some disagreements on whether or not the waste could be removed from the camp at all. There is one hospital, however the majority of Palestinians do not carry insurance and must pay out of pocket for surgeries and other expensive treatments. To manage, patients will beg the community and neighbors to donate to their cause.

image

image

image

image

This was the first camp I went to that had checkpoints at the entry and exit. You must carry an ID or permit to enter and exit the camp. More than half the refugees find it very difficult to leave, as they are not documented. I was not aware of this before my departure and learned it would take up to several days to obtain a permit. The driver assured me not worry and said I could pass as Lebanese. We were able to enter, no questions asked. However, my new Najdeh friends expressed concern on my exiting the camp, as the checkpoints are very strict. They devised a plan to avoid the checkpoint. The driver drove out of the camp without me, while the teacher escorted me out over piles of rocks and rubble (from a fallen shop) to the main street. There, I was reunited with the driver.

The getaway exit

 Above: Where I was able to exit the camp.

A few days after the Al-Buss interview, I was sent to Saida (a bit north of Tyre) to interview some students at a vocational center. Upon my return home, I learned that a UNFIL convoy had been bombed along the coastal road, a mere few hours after my departure on the same road. It was a strong reminder that there are still many dangers in Lebanon, the effects of the civil wars linger, and the anti-West sentiment remains strong.

"Hezbollah is actually quite philosophical." 

A friend of mine said this to me a month ago when I asked her to give me an opinion on the militant group. Though it was the first time I’ve heard Hezbollah described as “philosophical”, it wasn’t the first time I had heard someone speak positively about the group. 

Check out the opinion of another friend Gina (above) who expresses her view on the subject and on her experience during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.

The wires of Bourj el Barajneh

I have started a project to research the economic situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. This has involved interviews with NGO leaders and refugees in Shatila and Bourj el Barajneh in Beirut, al Buss in Tyre and Ein el Helweh in Sidon. I have been traveling often over the past few weeks and will be heading to Tyr first thing in the morning to meet with the micro-credits coordinator of Najdeh

Yesterday I visited Bourj el Barajneh, where I was able to interview a youth group of students who have been taking vocational training courses with NAVTSS (National Association for Vocational Training and Social Services). Typically, children who drop out of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency)  schools will opt for vocational training in areas such as nursing, graphic and interior design, photography, administration and accounting. The teens were not shy to discuss their situation - a lack of freedom to work outside of the camps legally, and a constant reminder of the discrimination and racism they would face if they ever left the camps.

image

Surprisingly, there were several Lebanese volunteers at the NAVTSS center, evidence of a positive relationship between Palestinians and Lebanese youth. There still seems to be a sense of hope that conditions will change for Palestinians, as the younger generation becomes more active and aware of the conflict the remains within Lebanon.

After the interview, one of the girls, Nihal offered to give a tour of her community and home. Although Bourj el Barajneh is not as diverse as Shatila, there was the same sense of community and everyone seemed to know their neighbors. At 15, Nihal is a smart and opinionated young woman who is also very knowledgeable about the camp. She directed my attention to the electrical wires in the camp - intertwined around each home, near to water pipes and in reach of every child. The wires are a priority on Nihal’s agenda of things to improve in the camp. In fact, she started a campaign to find a solution to the wire problem (see below). 

imageimage

Nihal pointed to a balcony where an old man had fallen after being electrocuted. He had been hanging wet clothes when he crossed paths with a broken wire. Because of the limited light inside homes, residents have no choice but to hang their clothes on their balconies. She also told me of a 15 year old boy who died a mere few weeks ago after walking by an area where water pipes lie directly under the biggest electrical box in the camp. 

image

Nihal took me through different streets, alleyways and shops and we eventually made our way back to her house. There I met her mom, Salwa and her older sister Layal. At 22, Layal is finishing her undergraduate degree in Marketing, but knows that she will not be able to get a job in the field if she remains in Lebanon. To support her schooling, she works at a daycare within the camp. I asked if she hoped to leave Lebanon and she explained that perhaps it would be possible, but only if she married a foreigner. 

Salwa was happy to show me her home, which suffered from leaking ceilings and broken fans. Nonetheless, it was warm and nicely decorated in preparation for Ramadan. Salwa removed her hijab to speak with me and explained how she was electrocuted a few weeks ago, leaving her hand badly burned. When I asked where she went to treat her injury, she said she didn’t even think of getting treatment. If anything goes wrong with wires, or with their home they can only turn to UNRWA. And even then, there is little that can be done because of the lack of resources UNRWA has to offer. 

image

Above: Salwa and her daughter, Layal

CRTD.A

PALESTINIAN REFUGEE RESEARCH PROJECT – LEAD INTERN

I am a research intern for The Collective for Research and Training on Development – Action (CRTD.A), a non-governmental organization based in Beirut, Lebanon. CRTD.A seeks to contribute to the social development of local communities and organizations through enhancing capacities particularly in gender analysis, gender and development, poverty and exclusion, for the purpose of contributing to creating a more just and equitable environment. As an intern, I conduct extensive research on the status of women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region while also administering interviews and writing reports and analyses on behalf of the organization. I also lead a project researching the relationship between Palestinian and Lebanese youth as well as issues of unemployment specifically for women. I am currently producing a literature review to provide recommendations for future interventions to improve the economic situation for refugees living in Lebanon. I am also finalizing a report on this topic based on extensive interviews of NGO leaders, youth and women from camps in Beirut and Tyre.

image

BOURJ EL BARAJNEH CAMP Children are often forced to play in the streets and alleyways, as there is no designated space for them in the camps.

Read More

Creative Wednesdays

Over the past few weeks, I have come to discover an amazing arts and fashion scene in Beirut. Many friends are graphic designers, illustrators, actors and musicians. Though the market isn’t always welcoming for this type of work, the fact that it exists is exciting and refreshing in a country where business and engineering are the most common and desired fields of study. What’s more interesting, is the community created around these common interests.

For instance, last week my friend Gina and I went to a friend’s house in Achrafieh for Creative Wednesdays. Carla, an actress, artist and DJ here in Beirut hosts a night to be créatif for all of her friends every Wednesday. Her house is beautifully decorated with drawings, paintings, photos and posters. There is old antique furniture and chandeliers mixed with modern light fixtures and shrines of art and picture frames. There was wine, paper, paint pencils and puzzles. Anything you would need to express yourself through art. Some people just go to observe and socialize, while others complete masterpieces by the end of the evening. 

Carla's house

And now for the six degrees of separation: I met Gina and Carla through Hanna, an adjunct professor of animation in San Francisco and who is also the brother of my friend Ghita, a fashion designer of leather bags and rings here in Beirut (check out her site: Magherita) . All have connected at one point or another during Creative Wednesdays. My friend Gina, who is a graphic designer and illustrator, came up with a comic series called “Gee”, a character she created based on her own life experiences.

She also does does freelance graphic design and illustration for children’s books, though comics are her passion. You can check out more on her website: http://www.ginanakhle.com/. I spent some time in her Monot home, which was decorated with her comics, furniture she made herself and interesting wall art and pottery from Jordan and her native Tripoli.  

It was interesting to see such a vibrant and active arts scene in Beirut and to somehow be adopted by it. I never considered myself to be that creative or artistic, but its more that I don’t allow myself the time or space to express myself with art. Now I have the opportunity every Wednesday thanks to Carla and the inspiration thanks to Gina. I’m looking forward to to this week’s mercredi créatif and hope to hone in on my artistic skills. 

Truthout on the Egypt Uprising: Must Read

"The fall of the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt has produced prolific analysis by media commentators across the spectrum. Some of this analysis has been excellent, but much of the conventional media interpretation of the why, how and what behind these events leaves much to be desired. There are a handful of misconceptions that have been parroted repeatedly in media coverage of the “Arab Spring.” These are important to recognize because the dynamics of how power is shifted matters enormously. In Gandhian language, means and ends are inseparable. That which is won through violence must be sustained through violence. That which is won through mass civil nonviolent action is more legitimate and more likely to be sustainable over the long term.”

read more here

Welcome to Lebanon

Last Friday I attended a screening of three commercials entitled “Welcome to Lebanon” at Saifi Urban Gardens"Welcome to Lebanon" is a video campaign directed by Jowe Harfouche for the Migrant Workers Task Force (MWTF). It consists of three videos that satirize the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism campaigns and depict tourist attractions from the perspective of migrant workers. I had known that the films were in the making since the beginning of June after reading an article in the Daily Star, and was excited to see the final product. 

The films begin as advertisements for the many attractions one can find as a tourist in Lebanon; shopping, going to the beach etc. But then reality hits, and the Ethiopian women speaking across balconies are shut into darkness, two young girls are prohibited from entering a public beach because of their race, and the Filipino woman looking as if she is enjoying a day of shopping suddenly rushes to pick up a pair of fallen sunglasses for her “Madame”.

Read More

Subaru: Stop Selling Cars Where Women Can’t Drive

Dear Subaru

We are leading Saudi Women’s rights activists and we write this open letter to you as a company that loves selling cars to women, and has built up a progressive brand for yourself.

Subaru sponsors women’s surf festivals, the U.S. Women’s Triathlon Series, “Subaru Women’s Week” packages for skiers and even the Outstanding Woman in Science Award for the Geological Society of America.

It’s funny, though, because Subaru is also making hundreds of millions selling cars in the only country on earth where women aren’t allowed to drive – much less ride a bike or go surf, run a triathlon, or ski on their own. 

Subaru takes corporate citizenship seriously. On your web site, Subaru Chairman Yoshio Hasunuma writes, “We are dedicated to support and improve the communities in which we live and work.”

But Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving or even riding a bicycle. It is often dubbed ‘the world’s largest women’s prison’. As Saudi women our lack of freedom of movement places an extreme burden on our lives. We lack a public transportation system and the most basic errands and medical appointments are missed due to the difficulty and expenses of arranging transportation, notwithstanding educational and work opportunities. Many from our religious establishment openly state that the reason they prohibit women from driving is to keep women at home and in need of men. Our lack of this basic right to drive our own cars has been repeatedly exploited by abusive fathers, brothers, husbands and even hired drivers. Just this week a Saudi woman reported she was raped by her driver. 

Read More

On World Refugee Day 2011: Put Palestinian refugees back on the agenda

http://mondoweiss.net/2011/06/on-world-refugee-day-2011-put-palestinian-refugees-back-on-the-agenda.html

Seven out of every ten Palestinians are persons displaced at some point during the past 63 years as a result of Israel’s ongoing policy of forced population transfer. Of these refugees, the majority are not protected by the UNHCR (the organizer of World Refugee Day) and have had the body responsible for providing them with protection, the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) largely de-funded and de-activated. As such, most Palestinian refugees are left without an effective agency to provide for protection and promotion of their rights and are only afforded humanitarian assistance by UNRWA.”

Shatila Refugee Camp

Yesterday my boss, Omar, took us to the Southern suburb of Beirut, Daheih which is predominantly Shi’ite and home to the militant group Hezbollah. We drove around the suburb as Omar pointed out who he thought to be Hezbollah militants. We passed by Hezbollah-hired traffic controllers as well as women, dressed in black hijab, most likely recruited to become activists within the militant movement. Generally these women are extremely well trained and educated in subjects like Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry and Engineering.

There was nothing particularly distinct about the suburb in comparison to other areas I have visited, though we did see a lot of new infrastructure. After attacks from the 2006 Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hezbollah immediately began to rebuild the damage caused from bombings. They provided money and housing for people who had lost their homes. Because they were partially responsible for the destruction, they wanted to make sure the community was well taken-care of, no matter what their religious or political affiliation. It was interesting to see how much Hezbollah provides for their community, despite the fact that they are considered to be radical and dangerous. 

We left Daheih and headed toward Shatila. I had seen footage of the camp conditions before, but I was still not sure what to expect. We started by meeting Omar’s good friend, Abu Mujahad, the Director of the Children and Youth Center in the camp. We took some coffee in Abu’s office as he demonstrated what I had seen before: frustration and anger. He wanted us to understand how dire the conditions were and how abandoned the people felt. We all sat there, absorbing, learning trying to understand, saddened by a sense of hopelessness. He explained how, even after 63 years of life, he still had to get permission to go to the South, to visit his family, to get a job. Often, the children and youth in the camps are not even sure where they come from. They were born in the camps, their parents were born in the camps…as far as they know, they are from Shatila.

Read More