A while ago a friend of mine, currently teaching English in one of the Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut, Bourj al Barajneh, invited me to join him and some other volunteers for a weekend activity with some of the kids there for the first time. We were going to be volunteering in a bi-weekly program a physical therapist set up in the camp for disabled kids in the camp, since so few resources are available to them and they have no options for professional therapy at all.
Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures while in the camp, apparently you have to get permission from General Security to take photos inside. I’m not surprised either, with the conditions. Everything is so cramped, with only a couple main roads and then tiny, winding alleyways between buildings for people to walk through. From the outside you would have no idea that there’s an entire city hidden behind a couple nondescript buildings, and then you walk down a tiny alley and it’s like night and day. You have to live there for a while to be familiar enough with the area so that you don’t get lost all the time. It was bustling with activity and noise, even on a Saturday morning. Palestinian refugees are only allowed to own businesses inside the camps, which keeps all the Palestinians inside and everyone out for the most part. It’s very difficult for Palestinians to get jobs anywhere outside the camps unless they’re extremely qualified and it’s hard for them to get into any of the biggest universities, both due to expense and discrimination.
Back to business. My friend knows his way to his school by now, which is where the therapy is held, so we find our way there soon enough. The director of the program was there already getting started with the activities for the 5 kids. For their therapy they do really simple, but hands on stuff that lets them be creative, artistic, and have fun, such as painting, coloring, making creations out of tissue paper (one girl made the most amazing pictures with hundreds of tiny balls of rolled-up paper) and just hanging out and socializing with each other and us. Despite the hurdles these kids face they’re still so open, happy, and friendly. They don’t let their lot in life get them down because they know they’re still alive and surrounded by people who love them and things could always be worse. I think a lot of people I know who are always complaining about stupid little things in their life should take a lesson from this kids and maybe be a bit humbled in the process and get some perspective, realizing all their whining and woe-is-me is so useless when people like the Palestinians living in a camp like this still manage to enjoy what they have instead of constantly moaning for more.
After we hung out with the kids for a few hours, they were sent home and the director took us around the camp on our way to another kid’s house. This kid had received surgery a few days earlier to relieve some extreme pain as a result of his warped legs. He was so small, probably only around 10 years old, resting on the only bed in a one-room house shared by himself, his parents, and his 2 sisters. It was only through the generous donations of nonprofit organizations working in the camps and doctors working pro bono that he had managed to get the surgery in the first place, and his family was struggling to come up with the $50 to pay for a leg brace that would keep the efforts of the surgery from reversing. Again, despite all this, they accepted what they had in life and worked on making the best of it while enjoying everything and everyone they had. This kid was happy about the simple toys we brought him and that we just came to hang out for a while.
Just being with this family made me appreciate what I had more and being here I’ve found myself not wanting more thing to fill my life, but the company and experiences of friends and family. Though I’ve encountered some less-than-stellar folks here, there have also been the ones that I’ve been able to become true friends with. These people I will miss when I’m gone and make an effort to see again when I can. Because really it comes down to the people. You can have all the stuff in the world but without anyone to share it with you can’t hope to be happy with it all. I guess this means I can’t wait to go home.