LEAP Blog: Shatila On My Mind: Kimberly

LEAP Blog: Shatila On My Mind: Kimberly

The following piece is re-blogged from Kimberly’s blog, .peace.love.teach. It is one of a number of blog entries detailing Kimberly’s experiences in Lebanon with LEAP:

Today, is my last day in Shatila. I can’t believe it.

shatila1I’m filled with a lot of emotions…it is a bittersweet moment. I’m sad to leave and to say goodbye to the people who have worked so hard alongside me this past summer and I’m sad to say goodbye to the children, the families who have been so generous, loving and kind to us. But I’m also excited to come back home, to share about this summer, to see what happens next…to see how this experience will be integrated into my life in DC.

On Friday, we had our closing ceremony for the children at the school. Each club (art, photography, theater, Debke, film) showed off what they worked on all summer. These club and activities for so great for the children to participate in. It gave them a chance to learn new things and to create. The film club created a film and the art club painted a mural on the rooftop. The photography club took beautiful, powerful photos of the camp and will have them displayed in an exhibit in DC this fall (don’t worry all you DC’ers I will be hounding you to go when I find out the details). These children need these outlets and are desperate for them. I’m so thankful the LEAP program allows these opportunities for the children in this program.

The club I taught was theater and for our performance we did a combination of theater, dance, music and even…step (bringing America and DC to Shatila 😉 ). My co-teacher and I wanted the performance to be created by the children with us guiding it and facilitating the progress.

shatila2The performance started with the students performing a short step routine. I have taught step dance a lot this summer as a “movement break” in class but also as another way to practice English. In stepping, the dancers chant while dancing so it is a great way for them to practice pronunciation. After that they performed their speaking/monolouges.

We had each student write an “I am_______” statement, a “my dream is__________” statement. As a class we came up with “We hope” and “our dream” statements. It was great to use what the children wanted to say as part of our performance. They came up with some great statements such as “We hope to see our people united” and “We are one hand, one community, we are proud.” We integrated these statements with gestures and movements for them to perform while speaking. After, they performed a dance I taught them to “Waka, Waka” but I edited the music so that they sang “This time for Palestine” instead of “Africa” as the original song says.

The performance came together beautifully and I was so proud to watch these students shine on stage. (I will post a video of it when I return home and have better internet connection to upload). Watching my students perform (wherever I have taught) is always my favorite part of teaching. Not only is it a final culmination of their hard work but I cannot tell you how amazing it feels to watch your students feel proud of themselves, to radiate confidence and to watch them come off stage with that feeling of joy and accomplishment. To watch your students realize that they just did something that they may have been nervous about beforehand and that they realized the outcome of their commitment and hardwork. Hands down, this is my favorite part of teaching; it makes it all worth it.

The ceremony overall was beautiful, it was so great to watch this community come together and celebrate the students’ work. And I always love being in a place in which two cultures are intersecting, working together, collaborating and creating. It really is beautiful.

Afterwards, we said goodbye to our students. That was the tough part. I did not realize how much emotion I had pent up until I had to say goodbye to my students. Just watching their emotions, how upset they were that we were leaving, was moving. I found one of my students, Sarah, on the stairs crying before the performance. I thought that maybe she was nervous about performing. When I asked what was wrong she answered “I don’t want you all to leave.” Even though it was hard to hear, it was also encouraging. This showed that we created bonds, trust, relationships with our students, and these bonds we created were strong.It really does amaze me, how much we have done this summer. When I think back to that first day walking into the camp, I can’t believe it’s only been a month. It feels so much longer yet it also feels like I am not ready to leave yet.

shatila3Last night, we had a closing dinner for all of the teachers in Saida (Sidon) at a beautiful restaurant right on the sea. All the teachers from all four camps in Lebanon came together to celebrate this summer. It was a great time of community for our Shatila group.

I am amazed and proud of my fellow team members. Each one of these people I worked with is amazing. Each one of us, has our own story of why we decided to come. When you really think about it, the fact that each of us chose to spend our summer living and teaching in a refugee camp, spending 8 hours a day teaching in a school which sometimes never had electricty, living in cramped quarters and emotionally exhausting ourselves, speaks volumes about each person. We very easily could have decided to just take a vacation, travel or lay on a beach but we took the risk and made the decision to come here all for the same purpose and passions. I admire each one of the teachers I worked with this summer. In their own unique way, they brought their passion, their talents and their special personality to work together for the same goal.

In one month, together with these amazing people…we created a school. Yes, we worked with this program and were provided with a building to work in, but it was up to us to make this happen. We were given the tools we needed and were set off with a mission. It was all of us, 17 energetic volunteers from the US, Canada and England working hard together with the same purpose, with energy, positivity and passion…that is how we were able to make this summer happen. It is a perfect picture of what happens when you work together for a purpose, embracing each person’s talent and gifts and staying positive no matter what the situation brings.

Together, we taught these children, we gave them a place to feel like they could produce, create and be proud of their work. We allowed these children to build friendships, make connections and learn more about themselves. We provided them with a safe haven to share their ideas, their dreams, their worries. I found out that many of them go to schools during the year in which the teachers are strict and somewhat harsh to them. Many of the students have told me that they do not like their teachers and are afraid of them. But this summer, we were able to show them that education can be a positive, nurturing environment in which they can grow and learn.

We gave them a community. A safe haven.

I will miss all of the teachers and children but together we now have a special bond…a Shatila bond.

shatila4And it was with intersecting and working with the people in Shatila, the beautiful community that this place has, that we also were able to do this. The people here have been incredibly gracious, supportive and encouraging. From the administration at the school, to the women who cook our meals, to even the coffee man who gives us encouragement and support as we stop by on our way to school. These people are just as vital and influential in this process.

Friday night, my co-teacher and I were invited to our students’ house for Iftar—the meal which they break their fast each night during Ramadan. We went to Bilal and Mohammad’s house. These two boys who could be very energetic and hyper in class, were so sweet and kind to us at dinner. It was touching to watch my two students serve us dinner, take care of us and be so hospitable. We were sitting on the floor and at one point, I stretched my back because it was sore. Mohammad instinctively went and got me a pillow. It’s so amazing to see your students in their “real” life outside of school. In class, students can get caught up in other students’ behavior, try to push our buttons but to see them in their home was such a great experience. It showed another side of them, a side I don’t get to see every day.

I got overwhelmed halfway through the dinner. I was watching these two boys, so smart, full of potential and my heart began to ache for them. I want them to have the future they deserve, the future that so many other children in this world are entitled to have. But unless things change, they won’t. And it breaks my heart. It also breaks my heart knowing that I can’t fix it, that I can only do what I came here to do and have hope for their future and their lives. That I can show them love, hope and grace and hope that they will grow from that.In Lebanon, there are huge controversies and differing views about the Palestinian refugees. A lot of this stems from the deep history of conflict and war. There is much resentment towards the refugees because of the conflict. There are stereotypes against the refugees; people Shatila are sometimes viewed as violent, not intelligent, full of hatred. I won’t deny that there is elements of this but not to an extreme. I believe that the other beautiful parts of their culture override the harsher parts of the camp. And I don’t blame the Lebanese, they have a deep history and that these views stem from things that I will never understand because I am not from Lebanon and I will never understand. However either way, I want the world to know that the people in Shatila are not scary and are not harmful.

I would love for you all to go to Shatila. To go meet the children, like Bilal and Mohammad and if you do, you will see the gifts, the talents, the beauty, the generosity, the potential, the dreams that these people have. The love they give, the hospitality they show, the perseverance they hold onto which I so admire. The world may focus only on the negatives of these refugee camps but I will also focus on the positives. I will go back to my world and share the great, wonderful positives of Shatila. However, I will also share the negatives of their situation, such as the poor living conditions and lack of basic human rights. This is a complicated situation but the world needs to have a balanced view and they need to learn how to see this situation through the eyes of humanity.

I will continue to hope for these people. For the beautiful children who deserve the future that so many in this world take for granted.

As I leave Lebanon, I take a piece of Shatila with me. That piece will continue to fuel the passion and purpose that I came here with.

Read more of Kimberly’s work at her blog, .peace.love.teach.

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LEAP Program

LEAP is a grassroots volunteer program established to provide educational empowerment projects to support the intellectual growth and creative curiosity of refugee-youth in Lebanon so they may become agents of change. As an apolitical humanitarian US-based organization, LEAP aims to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinian refugees in general, but particularly in Lebanon, to American volunteers.

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