24 July 2012
Students play at St. Charles School in Achrafieh located in east Beirut. (photo: Sarah Hunter)
In the July 2008 issue of ONE, we featured a story about the resiliency and openness of Catholic schools in Lebanon following the civil war in 2006:
Catholic schools can be found throughout Lebanon, in areas where there is little religious diversity or towns where Christians and Muslims live in segregated areas. In such places, the boundaries separating public school districts frequently coincide with community boundaries — thus reinforcing sectarianism.
Catholic schools, meanwhile, enroll students from all communities, whether adjacent, distant, Christian or Muslim. In many parts of Lebanon, they represent the last forum where Christian and Muslim youth meet and grow up knowing one another.
“Catholic schools are natural places where children can come together, sit next to each other and get to know the other person slowly but surely,” said Maronite Father Marwan Tabet, who heads Lebanon’s General Secretariat of Catholic Schools.
“It’s not like you have to shove it down the throats of people — and the kids grow to know each other, to love each other, to accept each other. That’s very important.”
For more, read Pillars of Lebanon.
22 May 2012
Tags: Lebanon Children Middle East Education Catholic Schools
In this photo taken in 2008, students attend class at the school of St. Charles Orphanage in Beirut, Lebanon. (photo: Sarah Hunter )
In this month’s CNEWA Connections, Gabriel Delmonaco writes about an event he attended in Maryland that helped raise funds for Education and Opportunities for Lebanon (EOL). Through a partnership with CNEWA, EOL — “an all-volunteer board of dedicated individuals... with an interest in helping the children of Lebanon” — has been a lifeline of support for youngsters in that country. Below is some information about St. Charles Orphanage, which EOL has supported in the past:
The St. Charles Orphanage has been caring for neglected and needy children in Lebanon for over 125 years. Currently home to 75 orphaned children, the St. Charles Orphanage also has 500 primary students, 250 technical students, and 100 kindergarten children from very poor families. The small staff, run by Sister Josephine Haddad, cares for the areas neediest children, regardless of religious background, providing hot meals, education, shelter, healthcare and other community services.
Visit our website for more from this month’s CNEWA Connections.
3 May 2012
Tags: Lebanon Children Middle East Catholic education Catholic Schools
Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Lebanon pick fruit. (photo: Marilyn Raschcka)
The Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in Lebanon care selflessly for the sick, disabled and orphaned individuals in Lebanon. Last December, during his pastoral visit to the region, CNEWA president Msgr. Kozar witnessed the work the sisters do first hand.
Marilyn Raschka wrote one of our first stories profiling the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross in the Jan/Feb 1999 issue of the magazine:
“Love — thats what they need,” my guide asserted as we walked into a room flooded with sunshine and colorful quilts. What looked like four- and five-year-old children in this room were actually teen-agers whose bodies were robbed of growth and whose minds had failed to develop. The room provided a safe, secure playing area for these residents. Toys were often used to stimulate those who could respond. But nothing worked better than a smile and a hug from nuns and staff.
The energy required of this community is replenished by young novices, three of whom I met during my visit. All three young women have sponsors from the United States who, through CNEWAs sponsorship program, contribute to their education and living expenses. Studies are strenuous, separation from family is painful and a future of difficult work could take its toll. But these challenges have created a bond that helps the women persevere. And youth, with its built-in buoyancy, provides extra time for some basic “nunsense.”
For more read, Bearing the Cross in Lebanon.
7 March 2012
Tags: Lebanon Sisters Beirut Franciscan Sisters of the Cross
Syrian refugees receive humanitarian aid from an Islamic organization in Tripoli, Lebanon, 6 March. (photo: CNS/Omar Ibrahim, Reuters)
As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, a new humanitarian crisis is unfolding. Issam Bishara, our regional director for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, puts it in context:
In February 2012, Syrian government forces carried out a major attack on Homs. This resulted in the deaths of over 700 inhabitants, including women and children, and led to the widespread condemnation by world governments and various non-governmental organizations. On 29 February, the Free Syrian Army withdrew in a strategic retreat from Homs, in order to save the civilians still in the Baba Amr district.
During the past few days, some 2,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, many of them from Homs, and particularly its opposition stronghold of Baba Amr. The majority of them, being Sunni, found refuge in border villages where they have relatives and mainly in the cluster of Wadi Khaled in Akkar-North Lebanon and in the East Bekaa border, in a no man’s land area called “Al Masharih.”
As for the Christian population: according to both Sister Marie Claude Naddaf, the superior general of the Good Shepherd congregation and Father Eliane Nasrallah, a good friend of CNEWA and the Greek Catholic parish priest of Al Qaa village (a Lebanese village located on the eastern border with Syria), the majority of the Christian families of Homs and the surrounding villages left during the escalations and found refuge in three areas:
- The Valley of Christians (inside Syria). It’s around 60 kms away from Homs on the international road between Homs and Tartous, which is a popular tourist site in western Syria, close to the Lebanese border. Most people in the area are Christians (Greek Orthodox, in particular.)
- The coastal city of Tartous (inside Syria). The Sisters of the Good Shepherd screened around 150 Syrian Christian families who escaped from Homs and found refuge in that area in addition to around 50 families who found shelter in Damascus.
- The Lebanese village of Al Qaa. Father Nasrallah says that at present 40 Christian families found refuge at their relatives’ homes within his parish. After visiting a majority of them, he reported that all of them are needy and living in very difficult conditions.
All displaced Christian families are struggling with severe weather. They are without power and basic necessities. They need emergency assistance such as food, foam mattresses, blankets, heating fuel and medications.
Christians are concerned about the repercussions of the events taking place in the region. They fear that the experiences of Iraq and Lebanon — which took place against the backdrop of a civil war — could play out again in their own lands. These concerns haunt the Syrian Christians, and have only been exacerbated by the death of more than 200 Christians in Homs as a result of the violence in the area, where the only victims have been civilians. It was reported that Christian residents of Hamidiya had been stopped from leaving Homs by anti-government forces, and were forced to evacuate their homes in the mosque to use them as human shields for protection against government troops. Further, the Virgin Mary Church, one of the oldest churches dating back to the early Christian era, was attacked by terrorists on 24-25 February. The surrounding commercial area, mainly owned by Christians, was also attacked. The same pattern that emerged in Iraq is now playing out in Syria: Islamic militants are now kidnapping and killing Christians.
At present, the priority of the local church is to help the displaced Christian families in Lebanon and inside Syria. Displaced Muslims are supported by Muslim NGO’s (mostly religious and Salafi institutions) and are receiving substantial funds from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Christians are finding refuge with Christian communities where none of the Arab aid is available. The church is their only hope.
CNEWA is in the process of raising funds to assist some 260 families inside Syria and in Lebanon in coordination with Caritas Lebanon, which has already started providing some necessary items such as blankets to some families, regardless of religious affiliation. Click here to help!
It is worth mentioning: the Lebanese government has adopted a policy of remaining unbiased to the conflict in Syria. Accordingly, it is allowing demonstrations and free speech for both sides, without discrimination.
2 March 2012
Tags: Syria Lebanon Middle East Christians Refugees Relief
Hassan Atrache buys water from a delivery truck at his house north of Beirut.
(photo: Laura Boushnak)
Journalist Don Duncan wrote about Lebanon’s water woes in the January issue of ONE. Here, he offers a personal perspective.
There are several things I had to adapt to when I first moved to Lebanon in May 2009. Although it is the most “Westernized” of Arab countries, and that makes some aspects of the move easy for a Westerner, the Westernized veneer belies deeper cultural differences one must understand and assimilate to over time. But before any of this happens, there are more practical differences that are starkly obvious the minute you land. Many basic government services are patchy. Electricity outages are a daily occurrence, water cuts happen frequently — especially in the dry summer months — the postal service is not reliable, and the internet speed in Lebanon is among the slowest in the world.
Within a few weeks of my initial move, the hot summer season was firmly in place and the steady supply of water I had come accustomed to became less and less steady. I had just about gotten used to the daily three-hour power cuts, which rotate on a scheduled basis, when I would wake up to find my kitchen tap and shower dry. Water cuts, it seemed, were much less predictable than electricity cuts and so were much harder to get accustomed to. Cuts would happen sporadically and last many hours, sometimes entire days, and the worst was that I never knew, once the water was cut, how long it would be before it would come back on so that I could carry on my household chores. In the meantime, the sink would progressively fill with dirty dishes, laundry would sit unwashed and, worst of all, in the searing, humid Beirut heat, I would have to manage without a shower and feel hot and nasty indefinitely.
The situation became unbearable and I began to try out some solutions. I would buy water bottles in bulk and boil them in big saucepans on the gas stove to do the dishes and laundry. I’d warm up water and give myself a sponge bath in the shower to feel fresh again. It wasn’t the same, and it was really time-consuming.
Then I began to see how Beirutis did it. The rich ones had big reservoirs in their buildings which would be filled by private providers as part of the hefty building charges they paid every year. The poor would resort to pulling water from wells or taking a plunge in the sea to keep clean. Those in between, many of them my neighbors, would manage by saving and rationing their water and when that ran dry, they’d pay a private water provider who would come and pump water he had taken from a spring up in the mountains. He’d come along in his mini-tanker truck and connect its hose to their water tanks. For a set price, he would pump a thousand to two thousand liters, to be rationed over as long a period as possible.
I have gotten used to this kind of intermittent government provision since I moved here, although there are still times I become exasperated and marvel at how easily the Lebanese adapt to fluctuations in supply of the various government goods and services. The truth is that, since 1975, when their civil war first broke out and the government collapsed, the Lebanese have learned how to do it themselves and not rely so much on the state. Since the war ended in 1990, things have gotten better and the government is more present, but the Lebanese people’s ability to cope has endured — an asset of resilience when the going gets tough.
You can read more about this issue — and what is being done about it — in the story Springs of Hope in Lebanon.
17 January 2012
Tags: Lebanon CNEWA ONE magazine Beirut Water
Youth from all religious communities participate in an urban dance workshop in Beirut.
(photo: Spencer Osberg)
In the July 2010 issue of ONE, Spencer Osberg photographed and wrote about life for youth living in Beirut, Lebanon:
Mr. [Muhammad] Ayoub belongs to a declining but active group of Lebanese youth committed to remaining in and improving their country. He and two friends founded Nahnoo as college students, organizing small outreach projects that brought together youth from Beirut’s disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“Even with the divisions, you have the same problems; you share the same goals and dreams. So why don’t you work together?” he says about the organization’s mission.
Today, Nahnoo coordinates some 60 volunteers, who tutor and mentor youth across the city. It also holds workshops for young people, aimed at teaching them the importance of tolerance and how to express themselves and solve their problems without violence. The workshops often include activities involving critical thinking, which, Mr. Ayoub says, help youngsters to better understand the complexity of the situations they encounter and that people may have different perspectives.
For more, read Lebanon’s Urban Youth.
9 December 2011
Tags: Lebanon Children Beirut
A villager samples clean water from the new filtration system in Lebanon.
(photo: Marilyn Raschka)
“Water is the stuff of life,” Msgr. John Kozar wrote on this blog a few days ago. Traveling through Lebanon on his first visit as CNEWA’s president, Msgr. Kozar is observing firsthand how this modest-sized agency of the Holy See is reclaiming land, restoring families and reviving parishes simply by bringing the basics like water to a forlorn community.
Since the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-90), CNEWA’s Beirut staff has worked tirelessly to resettle displaced families, revive abandoned villages and restore what has made Lebanon unique: A diverse mosaic, a home to all people, Christian, Druze, Sunni and Shi’ite. “Lebanon is more than a country,” Pope John Paul II said during his visit in 1997. “Lebanon is a message.”
In 2000, in the pages of our November issue of the magazine, writer Marilyn Raschka wrote about two neighboring villages in the Chouf region, just south of Beirut. Dmit is home to the Druze, a religious community that developed from Shi’ite Islam. Serjbal is a Christian farming community.
Historically, the two villages got on well, “feast days and funerals find villagers heading in each other’s directions for a respectful courtesy call,” writes Ms. Raschka. “But it’s water that will bring these two communities closer together, now that their pipe dreams have come true.”
Creating reservoirs, excavating trenches and laying irrigation pipe isn’t sexy, and it doesn’t even sound appropriate for an agency of the Holy See, but in Lebanon it reinforces what the Holy Father believes is that nation’s unique calling: to serve as a model of coexistence and love.
9 November 2011
Tags: Lebanon Beirut Water
Students have lunch at St. Charles School in Achrafieh located in east Beirut. 784 students, Muslim and Christian, attend St. Charles. (photo: Sarah Hunter)
In the July 2008 issue of ONE Spencer Osberg explored the role of Catholic Schools in Lebanon during and after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war:
The war is over, but Lebanon’s Catholic educators continue to provide a well-rounded education to all, regardless of creed. Today, the country’s 365 Catholic schools instruct some 200,000 students — about 22 percent of Lebanon’s school-age population — from all of Lebanon’s 18 officially recognized religious communities. Over 25 percent of the total student body is Muslim and, in many schools, Muslim students are the majority. Likewise, the approximately 12,800 teaching staff and 900 administrators employed by the Catholic school system represent every confession.
At Notre Dame College, a school of the Antonine Sisters in the southern village of Nabatieh, most students are Muslim.
“Our students in Nabatieh are as dear to us as our students in Ghazir,” said Sister Dominique. “Muhammad, Hassan, Ahmed, Tony, Joseph or George, it’s the same thing. We do not distinguish between them. We love them all.”
For more from this story see Pillars of Lebanon.
5 October 2011
Tags: Lebanon Beirut Catholic Schools
A young girl walks along a decorated wall as she joins her friends before the start of their first communion ceremony, in the Dbayeh Palestinian refugee camp, on the northern outskirts of Beirut, Lebanon. (photo: Dalia Khamissy)
The Pontifical Mission, our operating agency in the Middle East, has provided much support for the Dbayeh refugee camp in Beirut over the years. With the help of The Little Sisters of Nazareth, Dbayeh camp has set itself apart from most Palestinian refugee camps:
Across from the UNRWA office, in the partially derelict school compound that Pontifical Mission, in partnership with UNRWA, built, funded and once administered, 10 youngsters were sitting in a semicircle rehearsing their First Communion. All wore white cassocks; wooden crosses hung around their necks while the girls wore gardenias in their hair. Men and women stood by, offering moral support. Among them was Sister Anita, a Little Sister of Nazareth, a community inspired by the French hermit Blessed Charles de Foucauld. While her two colleagues in Dbayeh are Belgian, Sister Anita is a native of Bshirri, a village in north Lebanon.
The Little Sisters of Nazareth have had a family of three nuns stationed in Lebanon since 1971. Sister Anita and Sister Rosa have served for four years, while Sister Joanna arrived a year ago, though she has long experience in Lebanon. Based first in Jisr el Basha, the sisters left Lebanon briefly for the safety of Jordan after the camp was razed in 1976. But in 1978, the Pontifical Mission approached the sisters and, to ease their return, offered living quarters in Dbayeh.
For more about the Dbayeh refugee camp, check out Defining Dbayeh in the September 2007 issue of ONE.
4 October 2011
Tags: Lebanon Refugee Camps Palestinians Beirut Palestinian Refugees
Yesterday, veteran journalist Diane Handal described for us her return to Beirut after five years. She visited the city recently to report on CNEWA’s work with innovative microcredit program – a program she details in the September issue of ONE magazine. Today, she writes of her travels to a town north of Beirut called Amchit, where she met a remarkable man who was one beneficiary of the microcredit program.
Anis Hoayek repairs a broken chair in his weaving shop outside Byblos.
(photo: Dalia Khamissy)
His name is Anis. He is 48 years old, the father of two children.
One some days, he works three jobs. During the day, he is a supervisor in a mattress factory; nights and weekends, he works caning furniture in a tiny shop next to his home. On some nights, he fills in as a disc jockey.
Anis is driven, not just to make a living for his family, but also to give his son and daughter the private school education he never had. Public schools, I am told, are not an option in Lebanon.
Anis had polio when he was just a year old. Because of the polio, Anis was 12 years old when he started school. In fourth grade, the teacher told him he didn’t belong in her classroom but should be in a special school for the handicapped.
At the time, Anis was at the top of his class and exempt from taking exams. He told me he dreamed about becoming a professor. Those dreams were shattered.
Today, his right arm and left leg are both paralyzed. His left foot is twisted to the side and yet he struggles to walk on crutches, not giving in to the wheelchair that sits behind him.
I was in awe of this man. He had an incredibly optimistic attitude about life; he had goals and he was definitely not complaining. He was focused on his work; caning in his tiny shop that neighbors helped to build was what he loved.
Anis had dreams too, of expanding his workshop one day, buying more tools, and “hiring other handicapped people like me,” he said.
He perseveres despite a recent operation to remove his spleen and yet another to fix the crooked fingers in his left hand, the only good one he has.
I wonder what Anis’s life would have been like if he had the opportunity to finish school, go to college. I wonder if he would have been that professor he dreamed of becoming.
I think about my own life and how much I have and how often I forget.
That afternoon, returning to the city, I pass the Four Seasons Hotel, built by Prince Al-Waleed bin Tala, the Saudi businessman. It stands across from multimillion-dollar boats in the harbor.
I hear from friends that business at the hotel is slow. I think it is perhaps because of the “Arab Spring,” the revolutions sweeping across the region, touching so many of Lebanon’s neighbors. But they say not even the Gulf customers are coming.
The former Holiday Inn, a massive gray building, backing up against the Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel is still standing but riddled with huge holes, which have turned to orange rust. Green plants sprout through the balconies and what once were windows.
It sits as a testament to the bitter memories and dark shadows of Lebanon’s civil war that began in 1975 and lasted 15 years.
I stop and look up at this building and its scars of war and my mind wanders back to Anis. He too stands firm, refusing to give in to the dark shadows and bitter memories of his past, fighting every single step of the way for survival with grace and with courage.
Read more about Anis and his work here.
Tags: Lebanon Beirut Micro Credit Program