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Her husband, Abdel, is a farmer. Two years ago, the Syrian army burned the land they owned in Talbiseh. Since then, the family has had no reliable source of income. In the Bekaa Valley, he searches for employment as a day laborer, but work in this mainly agricultural region is scarce in the winter months.

Neighbors sometimes help by sharing food, despite limited means. But Mrs. Suleiman has found a consistent source of relief in the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Even in this setting, she and her family have found love, compassion and basic necessities thanks to Sister Micheline Lattouff.

“There is an ancient saying, ‘The candle that is just smoking, not lighted, still has a life in it, still has hope in it,’” says Sister Micheline. “I have no right to turn it off. I believe that even if a person is in a very bad situation, my mission is to show him the spark and light it.”

She began this journey at the age of 17. While on a high school retreat, she met a Lebanese sister of the Good Shepherd who had lived in Sudan and worked with women prisoners.

“These women were in bad shape — no toilets, no sanitary napkins — losing their dignity with no one to help them,” she says. “I was inspired that these were not nuns who just prayed; they were nuns who helped the poor.

“That is when I decided to become a Good Shepherd sister,” she says. “The mission of the Good Shepherd Sisters is to defend the rights of women, children and families — to help them regain their dignity.”

Sister Micheline is passionate about that mission.

Following four years at the University of the Holy Spirit, near Beirut, Sister Micheline went to Senegal and worked for a year and a half at a community center teaching women to sew and cook. She came to discover another reality in Senegal.

“The Senegalese people opened my eyes to cultural differences.” More importantly, she says, they opened her eyes to the humanity that transcends those differences.

She arrived in the Bekaa Valley in 2004, seven years before the war in Syria began, and soon began teaching in nearby Deir el Ahmar.

“I felt this region needed support, like sheep without a shepherd,” says the 44-year-old sister, citing concerns such as high rates of illiteracy. According a 2009 study by the United Nations Development Program, some 16.8 percent of adults in the Bekaa region cannot read — the highest rate in Lebanon. Many students drop out, drifting away from school to focus on farm work. Worse still, many become embroiled in the drug trade, which thrives in the region due to the cultivation of cannabis crops.

“The children were watering the hashish,” she says. “So, I started thinking: ‘What can I do for the children in this area?’ ”

Wasting no time, the nun sought resources — faculty volunteers, a public space and basic materials — and in late 2005 started an after-school program. It opened for just two hours each afternoon, but those two hours allowed for healthy socializing, study and play. It gave students another choice in how to spend their time, and provided an incentive to stay in school.

But she did not stop there.

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