By Tatjana Isabella Sopart
Jusoor’s “summer camp” is going in a fourth round on July 17th this year with volunteers
from all over the world getting together to launch activities with Syrian refugee children in
Lebanon. The summer program aims to provide a distraction for the children from their dire
living situation, but most importantly an opportunity to enjoy and have a good time. The
group of volunteers coming to Lebanon presents itself as a unique and totally mixed group of
32 young motivated people of different origin: Among them the United States, the U.K.,
Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Portugal and Colombia. While
some of them have lived in Lebanon before through family ties or come each year for a visit,
for a great many it is the first time ever in the Middle East. Their reasons for coming are as
diverse as their background, be it for the volunteering experience itself, to explore the
Lebanese or Middle Eastern culture and society, or most importantly to take a part in
alleviating the current crisis.
The 2017 summer camp kicked off with a four day orientation course for the volunteers that
gave them the chance to acclimate themselves in Lebanon and get to know each other. Each
of these introduction days took place at a different Jusoor school, so that the volunteers
could also become familiar with all three locations before being thrown into the hub of
activities. Other than the past years, three different groups were created and allocated to either Beirut school, Jarrrahieh school or Jib Jannine school. There were also more workshops
and instruction included on the subjects to be taught in the program. Above that, the
volunteers were provided with an insight into the organization itself, the Lebanese system, the requirements and methodologies, as much as the challenges of teaching and activating refugee children from Syria. However, they were also given the chance to become active themselves and strengthen the group dynamic through team building and sports activities. Challenges such as “What kind of leader am I?” prompted them to find their inner buffalo, mouse, snake or lion – however, many also opted for their own individual choice of leadership style with highly creative answers. At another point, they were faced with ways of how to achieve the best results as a team. There was lots of laughter, when music rhythm and concentration rose as two groups of volunteers were trying to balance a stick to the ground in a collective effort.
On day three the new volunteers were finally allocated to one of the three Jusoor schools and each one of them was assigned a schedule to follow the next weeks. Three different subjects are launched each day that include peace building, arts and science class, while some teams also focus only on sport activities. The last day of the orientation program was scheduled as a meet-up between teachers and volunteers that were to be paired up in teams and work together for the next weeks.
With regard to the activities undertaken, many volunteers came with very clear and creative
ideas to Lebanon, only waiting to be launched. But it is also a daily group effort to share
information and help each other to prepare activities in a motivated and dynamic team.
Mohammad for example, a volunteer from Saudi Arabia, is passionate in building a robot
with the kids: “We are teaching them the very basics of robotics, so every day they learn a
math concept and apply it to robotics, e.g. comparing numbers, how to make a buzz,
ultrasonic or light sensor, and at the end you combine all of it together.” The kids then might
be presented with their own mini-robot and even able to move it.
One of the American volunteers Ashley conducts many activities related to the Latin alphabet and the improvement of counting skills, as well as working on arts and crafts that promote fine motor skills, such as folding, cutting, weaving and threading. Today her classroom read a story in English about colors – she acts it out and shows pictures for all of them to understand and later on practices
the color words with the children.
However, it is not all carefree fun and enjoyment. The specific circumstances of emergency
education also pose challenges that are way more pronounced as in a usual school environment. The volunteers are required to deal with many different levels of education and powers of concentration. While some kids catch the essence of the lesson immediately, others need more time or even have to get used to the classroom setting and adjust to the situation.
Albeit an advanced age, some still struggle with reading or writing and thereby need special
attention. You have to always start with simple things in order to not overwhelm them and
sometimes divide the class into different groups in order to provide different opportunities and activities for the children in different levels. In Mohammad’s class, a winner is elected each week that will get a prize. In addition, working as a volunteer does not require a psychological formation, so that it is often difficult to assess what kind of conflicts or experiences/trauma lie behind behavioral problems or learning difficulties at hand. During the day the emotions not seldom blow over, as kids get into a fight, cry and have to be reconciled.
After a long day of arts and crafts, hoola hoop exercises and science experiments, but also
crying and shouting on the playground, the volunteers return home – it is time to relax,
explore Beirut and enjoy their evening. Then again, the weekends are full of trips and
opportunity to explore the rest of the country: Jounieh, Sur, Baqline, Beiteddine, Batroun and
many other Lebanese attractions are on the program and much enjoyed.
All of these experiences have not only brought the kids and volunteers together, but also
created a great dynamic among the volunteers itself. They all agree that the summer camp is
an overall positive experience, in particular the first-hand contact with the situation of refugee
children and their living conditions. One of the volunteers mentions: “I learnt a lot – not just
about Lebanon and Syria, but also about the experience of refugees, what displacement looks
like”. Another one adds: “It’s very eye-opening – we have to get out of our comfort zone. You
keep hearing about this humanitarian issue and here you are at the heart of it, you see what are the challenges they face, in which conditions they live, not just reading about it in the news.
Second, it’s really enriching to meet people from all over the world that all have the same
cause and you make great friends.” The last point is probably one of the strongest about this
project: bringing together people from all over the world that bring a great many different
ideas and form a collective cooperation. It broadens their worldview and understanding of the world, and this way makes them return to their countries with a wholly new perspective.