An extract from the journey of one of the RB team, Zeenat working in Lebanon with Palestinian refugee children. Please follow her journey:
Had a tour around Shatlia and Bourj Al Barajneh refugee camps today located in Beirut. The contrast between the old and the new, the poor and the rich- is so stark. Example- you have the Radisson hotel on one street with slum like blocks of apartments a few meters down the road.
The Camps today had been what I was waiting for. Enough of the commercialized, shallow Beirut vibe from multinationals on every street corner, regular high street shops, beauty parlors every five seconds and not particularly friendly Lebanese people- leaving much to be desired. Very different to my expectations of what I hoped Beirut to be like... but the hidden jewels beyond the tall glass windows, shiny shop signs and general superficial glam of this place- rests in the places standard 'tourists' are told to ignore... or rather the places, the international community chooses to forget.
As I walked through the dark and narrow winding alleys, with high enclosed buildings, electricity cables draped over the walls, doors and overhead. Water leaked from random pipes. Against a backdrop of graffiti of Palestinian flags, pictures of the Dome of Rock, Arafat posters speaking of revolution, Hamas and Hezbollah symbols across the dark and sloping, ill built structures, lay the smiles of beautiful people. Smiles of noor. Heavenly light.
Every single person, old, young, infant, male, female- greeted us with smiles, greetings and Salaam. So open were the Palestinians to the strangers who had come to explore, investigate, scrutinize...pity the place they now are forced to call home.
The bright eyed children, with faces of smiles and light, were some of the most beautiful children I have ever seen. They rushed out from shops, their homes, the alleys- to wave, smile, greet and welcome us.
I found it hard to not become emotional. Whilst taking the tour with a group of about 15 other mainly American volunteers from another NGO, I looked amongst their faces to see, if it was from only my eyes, that tears began to form. It seems I was alone.
We were taken into a Centre which allowed elderly people with certain conditions to join together. We entered whilst there were games of Dominoes and cards going on. As we entered, every single one of these elderly men and women, stood up to greet us, give us salaam, smile and welcome us, to sit and join with them. I greeted the men old enough to be my grandfathers, with Salaam, to which they replied and put their hand to their heart. I did the same to the women, and although initially reluctant, I embraced them with handshakes and kisses on each cheek.
The lines etched on their faces, gave away their age and I couldn't help but think, these must be the originals. People forced to leave their Palestine and see their own families born into the slum camps. I sat next to a particular woman, who looked the oldest. She had the most lined face yet somehow looked the softest. She motioned to me to sit down with her, whilst she read her prayer beads.
Tears streamed down my face.
The women looked at me in confusion. Why is this foreign girl crying? Another woman looked directly at me, and asked in arabic- why are you crying tears? I stared at her, willing her to understand what I was thinking, what I was feeling.
I asked myself, who am I to shed tears in their presence when I have never known such pain?
I couldn't control it.
The warmth of the Palestinians is like that I have never known and maybe will never know.
This was just a taster. Tomorrow, we travel to Tripoli to make our way to Beddawi camp, where we will be for the next 4 weeks.
I pray for strength. That I can do something. We can do something. Anything. For these wonderful people, our brothers and sisters.