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Lebanese4Refugees distribute aid to Syrians

January 27, 2015
A home for a Syrian family in an informal settlement in Al Marj, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

A home for a Syrian family in an informal settlement in Al Marj, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

In the wake of brutal weather in early January and winter storm “Zina,” that battered Lebanon, civil initiative Lebanese4Refugees arranged massive clothing and aid drives for Syrian refugees living in informal settlements. In order to allow people to see some of the aid actually being distributed, they organized a trip to Al Marj on January 13, in the Bekaa Valley, for anyone who wanted to come along to help. IMG_0229 Two vans full of Lebanese and expat volunteers bundled up for the long, cold ride down into the valley. In the informal camp in Al Marj, there are around 750 people living, more than half of them children. While waiting for the truck of aid to come, children swarmed around the volunteers and adults were eager to tell their story and voice their needs to anyone who would listen. Walking away from the crowd toward the families standing outside their homes, I was soon holding one-month old Najwa, then invited in her mother, Noura’s, home for coffee. IMG_0278 This family was more fortunate than many in the country, and even in the sprawling camp. They had a stove and an enclosed concrete room where the family of five slept – but they pay for it. $200 per month for the one room, a massive burden for any refugee family. Noura, whose husband is still in Aleppo, struggles to make ends meet with occasional house cleaning in the area. Despite their struggles, I have never met people more warm and generous than Syrian refugees, both in Jordan and Lebanon. IMG_0304 At first, aid distribution was chaotic, with volunteers throwing clothing off the truck into a crowd of people desperately jumping and fighting over items they wanted, and tossing unwanted clothing behind them and small children getting knocked over. In front of me, a little boy landed in a puddle of ice water and mud facedown. Another man fell into a baby carriage. Once this proved to not be working, they instead gave out the aid house to house, which worked much better, and was much more dignified for both the donors and those receiving it.

With the Syrian conflict going into its fourth year, new restrictions have been slapped on Syrians coming into Lebanon and the situation only gets more difficult for the more than one million refugees who are already here. Despite rising tensions between Syrian refugees and Lebanese people throughout Lebanon, it is good to see that there are also many Lebanese who are trying to help people in need in their country.

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SparkTalks Beirut

December 9, 2014

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This weekend, I attended SparkTalks Beirut, and it was packed with some really inspiring chats. With my colleague, Kaylyn Hlavaty, we wrote an article about the event for Agenda Culturel. You can find it pasted from the website below. It’s important to look at everything in a new way, the way the organizers flipped the conference format on its head, and especially to look at humanitarian aid in a new way, as some of the talks addressed. This is something that is desperately needed, particularly in a place such as Lebanon with over a million Syrian refugees and about 45o,000 Palestinian ones.

The first time organized in the city, SparkTalks Beirut, sponsored by PU-Ami Lebanon, brought together enterprising people with the dynamic and diverse backgrounds who all had one thing in common: a desire for a greater social change. From oud players to poets to humanitarian workers, the entire event was dedicated to “sparking” a conversation between people from all different sectors who are not normally gathered in the same room. The idea is that no matter who you are, or what you do, you have the power through connecting with others in this city to change the narrative and create a brighter future for marginalized groups around the world.

Fabrice Martin, Head of Mission at Première Urgence – Aide Médicale Internationale (PU-AMI) in Lebanon, spoke about the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon and the desperate need to find new, innovation solutions to respond to the crisis. Martin set the tone “to give the spirit for this event” by quoting filmmaker Alice Walker, “Activism is the rent I have to pay to live on this planet.”

Aurelie Salvaire, a social entrepreneur, connector, catalyst, is familiar with change makers – aside from being one herself, she is a lead curator for TedX Talks and is currently based at Impact Hub Barcelona. She was one of the organizers at last Saturday’s event.

“I wanted an environment where ideas, projects and people can spark conversation and create change,” Salvaire said, continuing, “We had many people from all walks of life wanting to participate in the conference. It was difficult to choose because there were many interesting individuals.”

Instead of hosting this imaginative group of people in a traditional conference, there were a number of short talks over the five hours, with people limited to 10 minutes of time to maximize attention and impact, while creating an interaction between the speakers and the audience with informal Q&A after some of the sit own interviews, Salvaire mediated with some of the guests. Salvaire wanted to flip the conference model on its head, a steady, changing stream of inspiring people talking about a myriad of ways to change the way we look at issues.

“I wanted the audience to think of speaker as, ‘what do you do and why’ with the reaction of ‘Wow, that motivated and inspired me.’ A humor and fast approach to spreading ideas about advocacy, funding and social issues,” Salvaire explained.

The crowd was full of change makers. One of the over fifty present was Viveca Chatila who is an English teacher at Notre Dame University. She has recently started an initiative called “Find the Arts” in Lebanon in order to support young artists and art education in the country.

“I’m here to network. I’ve never been to something like this before and I heard really good things, I’m hoping to get some inspiration,” she said.

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By the end of talks, the candid and genuine speeches done by innovators, asylum-seeking refugees, activists and NGOs workers left a massive wave of inspiration behind and created motivational attitudes in the dark, packed auditorium. Co-organizer Martin took something away from his own event as well.

“When I was organizing this, I thought how crazy am I? There is so much work and organization involved. But as I stand here today, I discover the point of views and inspirational messages many of you shared today. It left motivated me to keep spreading positive messages with people like you.”

I’ll have a Thanksgiving myth with my pumpkin pie

November 27, 2014
Yeaaah...that's not actually Thanksgiving. Thank you, primary education.

Yeaaah…that’s not actually Thanksgiving. Thank you, primary education.

Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday in the states, mainly because it celebrates a myth that never happened. Pilgrims and Indians didn’t sit down together to break bread on this proclaimed Thanksgiving Day in 1621. They did have a big feast after their first winter, in 1621, where the American Indians helped them learn how to survive – but this wasn’t Thanksgiving. The holiday was created by governor John Winthrop in 1637 to celebrate the return of men from fighting Peqot Indians in Mystic, Connecticut. This fighting not only led to hundreds massacred (about 700), but also kicked off the ensuing century after century of continued conflict between those fighting for their land and those who were taking it.

It’s a struggle that has changed, but not ended for Native Americans. There are some statistics I read this morning in this article that are important to note as well.

“For instance, 28 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives live in poverty, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Minority Health. The National Congress of American Indians Policy Research found that 32.4 percent of the Native American population under the age of 18 also lives in poverty.”

“According to the the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association, the mortality rate for American Indian children between the ages of 1 and 14 has increased by 15 percent since 2000, despite the average rate in the U.S. having dropped by 9 percent during the same time period.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that the suicide rate among native youth ages 15 to 24 is 2.5 times higher than the overall national rate.

 

There is an event that I never attended when I was going to graduate school in Massachusetts that I wish I had had the chance to called the National Day of Mourning, which has been held in Plymouth for 45 years on Thanksgiving Day. Moonanum James, the son of Wampanoag leader Wamsutta Frank James who started this day in Plymouth, call it this because it was the end of American Indians’ way of living as they had known it for so long.

Thanksgiving would mean so much more if meant that as a nation, we would also be paying respect to history (not the lies our teachers told us) and attention to the issues that still plague American Indians. It is a nice sentiment to have to a day to remind us all to be grateful, but it’s an empty one unless the truth is paid mind as well.

Darsko – a hidden gem worth digging for in Bourj Hammoud

November 21, 2014

I recently had the pleasure of hanging at Darsko, which is a tiny record shop tucked away on Maraash Street in Bourj Hammoud. I love discovering new places and music, so when you combine exploring the great suburb of Beirut that is Bourj Hammoud (the majority of the population is Armenian, so you can also be sure that you will be eating well when you’re there too) with vinyl record after record of unexpected funk/soul/jazz/blues/etc artists, you get a pretty rad combination.

Darsko took nearly a year to open. Owner Ernesto Chahoud, DJ and co-founder of the Beirut Groove Collective, said that it was just an extension of what he was already doing and has been doing since he was young.

“It’s just part of my personal collection that I’ve been doing since I was 13 years old. I have lots of doubles and lots of records that I don’t spin anymore. There’s no more space in my house. Basically my collection is mainly jazz and funk, Afro-beat, Brazilian, rock, 70s punk rock, some Arabic, disco and soul,” Chahoud said.

The small space used to be his grandfather’s shoe factory. His family abandoned it during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. When they returned after the war, Chahoud’s father had no interest in using it, but Chahoud did, and he turned it into the minimal space it is now, where good, soulful music is the focus of the store.

You can read the full story on Agenda Culturel’s website here! Check out some more photos from the story below, and if you want to dig for Darsko for yourself, call Chahoud 70 990 198 or find the shop on Facebook.

A Street Festival in Hamra

November 20, 2014

I love street festivals. I also really like Hamra, a neighborhood in Lebanon’s capital city, Beirut. It has so much character and grit that I hope to eventually be able to capture more in-depth through both writing and photographs. For now, here is a just a taste, from festival a few weeks ago on Makdissi Street.

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The Little Bookshop

November 18, 2014

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When abroad, especially in a loud and chaotic city like Beirut, it’s important (for me at least) to find a relaxed space where you can meet interesting people.

There are many places like this in the city and I have added one more to my list: The Little Bookshop in Hamra. Everything is welcoming in the small space, from the handwriting font on the sign to the warmly lit atmosphere inside. Owner Adib Rahhal is a great host, and every time I stop by, I meet someone new. New books, new friends. Even if you aren’t in the market for a book in English, the music and company just may keep you there.

Book lovers of Beirut, good news. In the small scene of quiet places with nice people and great books, you have found another home.

Find the address and more about the bookshop and Adib here!

Colonel Microbrewery – A Lebanese surfer who sold everything to follow his dream

November 8, 2014

My guest post for my colleague’s super blog, Four Letter Word, on a beer brand in Lebanon that is changing people’s taste buds and perspectives on the environment, one lager at a time.