Interpal delegation in Lebanon – Day 1: Shatila Refugee Camp – A Tangled Mess
By Yasmin, Interpal fundraiser
We are currently in Lebanon to gain a deeper insight into the reality of life and living conditions for refugees in the camps; and to appreciate how the work we do as Fundraisers in the UK directly impacts beneficiaries here in Lebanon.
Shatila is known more commonly in reference to the Sabra and Shatila Massacre in 1982 which saw the theft of more than 3,000 lives of Palestinian refugees. Today we visited many families, Interpal beneficiaries and sponsored children and delivered winter clothes and blankets as well as financial and food aid for the winter month.
My initial thoughts of Shatila refugee camp was that, if this camp was in the UK, there would be several very large, yellow and black danger warning signs at the entrance…and then at every turn.
The entire camp is an entwinement of water pipes and electrical wiring overhead and is swamped in waste. It is an extremely hazardous environment for anyone to live, especially as there are no designated play areas and so this danger zone of, apparently, a place of “refuge” is what kids here know as a playground.
Shatila refugee camp itself is almost parallel to the Palestinians’ status as refugees in Lebanon. They are restricted in so many ways, from not being able to own property or enter upto 70 professions – they are pretty much boxed up from Lebanese society and this is very clear from the situation in the camp itself and how they are hidden from view in the metropolitan city of Beirut.
It is not difficult to understand how huge the psychological impact must be especially with such an obvious feeling of confinement. I felt claustrophobic by just spending half the day there!
We visited a number of families that Interpal supports; this was wide ranging and notably included a child with cancer whom Interpal is supporting with chemotherapy sessions, a disabled child and an elderly woman who arrived in Lebanon at the age of just one with her family who fled Palestine during the Nakba in 1948. She has led all her entire 80+ years of life so far as a stateless refugee.
“Pictures don’t do justice to what the situation is here. Each person has a different story but the common theme is suffering.” – Halema, Interpal Birmingham Fundraiser
It was heart-warming to see the bond between the local field workers and the children. Seeing Amani, our Lebanon field worker, embrace and cuddle the children upon arrival as though they were her own family members, whom she hadn’t seen in a while, and the familiarity and ease of the families around us showed that they were visited often. At first I actually asked, “Is she your relative?” She laughed and replied, “she’s one of our own.”
Many refugees suffer from the lack of access to safe, clean drinking water. “People in the camp do not have access to fresh water, families must dig wells to retrieve it. Many aid agencies make false promises to try and make water available but we are yet to see this actualised. Palestinians living in the camps depend on buying own water but it’s too expensive and we have no choice but to drink unsafe water, leading to multiple illnesses.”– Adel Nayfeh – General manager, Nayfeh for trading & tourism services (He has worked with Interpal for 2 years)
When asked what is the general opinion about Interpal, he responded: “Interpal is well known here for its rapid response. It has a good reputation in the camp so much so that people wait for Interpal’s help because they are reliable.”
On discussing Palestinians rights with local freelance videographer Alaa who is with us for the week, she stated: “Palestinians have no rights. If anything bad happens, for instance a crime, the blame is immediately put on the Palestinians”.
The situation is by definition dire and I hope that the worst has already been seen. However, the warm smiles of mothers upon receiving blankets and winter clothes that, without having to say a word, whisper “thank you for keeping my babies warm this winter”; and the tiny faces of her children that light up with glee upon receiving little gifts and sweets gives the most amazing feeling ever. And just as the helping hand that we are providing keeps them going, so do they keep us going.
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations in life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Donate towards Interpal’s Winter aid projects today and join us in bringing warm smiles to those most in need.