Friday, July 4, 2014

From Shatila with love


One of the main issues you face when you work in the field of development in such miserable places as the Palestinian camps in Lebanon -in addition to the absence of law and order and the possibility of being trapped in a war at any given moment- is that people look at your organization as the one who should be bringing salvation and resolution to all of the problems that have been accumulated over the years of neglect and abundance.


You are supposed to provide a better medical care, a better education, and even resolve the problems of sanitation. They'd expect you to hire everyone who has been jobless for the last year or two. And if you ever dare to fail those expectations, you would have to face angry people stocking you in the streets, or you would have some of them showing up at your office to shout at you, or even worse to threat you to ever dare putting your feet again in the camp would you fail to comply to their demands. Most of them would calm down after a while, and apologize by saying that they are not here to beg for assistance, they just want a chance for a dissent job. You cannot be angry at them, for you are simply aware that deep down they are good people, even with all the shouting and threatening. They are just deeply wounded persons with a heavy heritage of humiliation.

The last incident was with an angry man who was shouting at us in our office, and making threats because he applied for a job and wasn't chosen for it. After finishing his scary spectacle, he nearly felt into tears when he described the different ordeals he went through since his childhood. He suffered a lot during the civil war, as every one else in those camps. He witnessed the war of the camps, and endured the severe siege, when he had to live for months in a sewage pit that he took as his own room. He had to face starvation too and for long periods of time. "If it was for me, he said, I wouldn't mind to sleep with an empty stomach for few more months until I find a job, but I cannot support the idea of letting my kids go through it. When Syrians first came here I helped without being asked because I was working back then, and I could give a hand voluntarily. Now I am the one asking for your help, all I want is a job!" When at the end of the long conversation he came to my embrace as an apologizing gesture, I saw a gun in his belt under his shirt. I freaked out! What if in his anger he lost control over his temper and decided to use his gun? I do often find myself wondering, "What for God's sake am I doing here? Does't it worth it? The continuous stress, the real danger, and the despair that invades you when you do realize that you don't have a magical wand that can solve this structured violence, ignorance, poverty and corruption?"

Whenever we tell people that we are working in Shatila camp they look stunned. "How dare you go there?" their first reaction often is. Others simply suggest that we at least move our administration office out of the camp. Well, it simply doesn't feel right to me, nor to most of our core-team members fortunately. It would be like if we are telling the rest of the team that our lives are more important than theirs, it shows the people that we are no different from the other INGOs personnel who need months till their headquarters give them a security clearance to pay us a visit, it tells the people of the camp that we are dealing with them as clients not as our own people whom we are looking to serve. We would be simply telling people that we too prefer to steer away from their problems, of their hardships. I believe if we really want to be true with ourselves and with the people, we would have to endure our share of their suffering even if it meant going through the danger of random violence.

I often find myself standing at the window staring at a scene like the one in the picture above, contemplating this harsh reality: Yes, we are doing a great job, and I am proud of it. Yet, we are merely treating the symptoms not the real disease. Would we ever be able to penetrate into those structures of apathy and corruption? Would we ever be ale to do something to defuse this explosive mixture of violence, weapons, drugs and corruption? Would God tries ever to give a hand or he too prefers to steer away from this troubled region?

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