Interview Corner: Reflections from the Refugee Camps

February 25, 2018
This week, we sat down with committee members from Manchester ISoc to hear what they had to say about their recent trip to Lebanon with Global Rahmah Foundation, where they delivered aid to those in need in refugee camps, using money raised from our charity week.

In a nutshell, how was the trip?

Abdurrahman: A few words would be eye opening, like you already know about the things beforehand but it just makes it a lot more personal. It really brought it home, the suffering that people had, you're definitely able to empathise a lot more after the trip.

How were the donations used?

Zaidi: They were mainly used in the Winter Aid, so that was buying blankets, mattresses and food boxes for families in two refugee camps. Donations also went to an orphanage school, the Bee Academy, so that helped with orphan sponsorship and the upkeep of the school.

What is your most unforgettable memory from the trip?

Shamena: For me, it was when we went to the Palestinian slums. There was a woman there and she was with her daughter, her daughter was disabled. And she was speaking in Arabic and me and Alicya, we couldn’t understand what she was saying, but even though we couldn’t understand, we could feel her pain you know? When she started crying and when she was talking about her daughter you could just feel the emotion, you could just feel their struggle. That’s what was the most unforgettable part for me. Alicya: Yeah being in the Palestinian refugee camp, that was the most memorable for me as well because there were just so many different experiences that happened on that day that it really hit you properly. It's become like a slum now. It’s been established for so many years, I think since 1984 so that’s like their permanent home but obviously the facilities aren’t very good, there's electricity wires hanging like everywhere, its really dangerous. And I think one thing that hit me was that there’s a graveyard in the refugee camp and they were saying how they have no more space to bury the people that are dying. The government won't let them bury them outside that particular graveyard, so they're having to bury on top of each other. And then there was this picture of a young guy, maybe our age, and they told us that he died while trying to fix the electricity wires because its not very safe, like they're all exposed, he got electrocuted and passed away. So I think a lot of people die from that each year as well. So it’s just things like that, simple things that people are dying from, just because of the lack of infrastructure. Zaidi: I think one thing that stuck out to me was on the first day at the Syrian refugee camp, there were loads of kids running around and at one point we brought out some toys and they all came running towards us and what hit me then was, they're exactly the same as us. There is no difference, like a few years ago they would’ve been living a normal life: going to school, having friends, toys, like all of that and its all been taken away from them and now they're in subhuman conditions. Honestly like, the Syrian refugee camp was very similar to a farm with just some tents there and the thing is, the innocence of these kids was still protected, they were just running around, playing with you, they’d talk to you if you wanted to and they weren’t any different to family members that I have. I think Dridi mentioned that one thing that hit us, was that we’ve been blessed to be born in a stable country, like our country has been stable throughout. They were born in a stable country, from what I understand, but then everything turned on its head in a couple of weeks and their whole lives have turned around since. Abdurrahman: I'd say in a similar way to Zaidi I guess, but everyone takes from the experience something different. For me it was again in the Syrian refugee camp. There was someone I guess roughly our age. He wasn’t working and he had, I think, two children and he was married but he couldn’t actually provide for his family because his right arm was injured permanently during a bomb strike. His arm was fully injured and what hit me was just that simple one limb in that scenario is enough to, like there’s no chance. Like in our society we’re lucky Alhamdulillah to be able to do work, even if you're disabled you’ve got various other avenues, you can use your mind, your thinking because you’ve got so many different avenues. But in their situation, that’s really not available to them, they're really limited to very specific physical labour and if you're put in that situation, you really can't do much, and just that he was our age you know? For the rest of my life there’s going to be someone else in roughly the same situation, but unable to provide for himself and his family because of something that wasn’t down to him. That’s just something that really sticks with me.

Do you have any other stories from the trip that stand out that you'd like to share?

Zaidi: I think going back to the Palestinian refugee camp, this was something we witnessed. We were in Beirut city centre and everything was kind of modern and done up nicely and suddenly you enter these gates and it was like a third world country there. And we heard stories from people taking us around about how the gates were closed at one point. They had to eat dogs. They had to eat cats. They were literally starving in there. I think one thing we noticed was that inside they had like their own economy, they had goods that you couldn’t get outside, like they had to fend for themselves. And just going back to what Alicya mentioned about the graveyard, one quote that hit me when they took us to the graveyard, was they said, we’re separated in life, and we’re separated in death. So like there’s nothing that unites the people, like usually, when death hits, usually like everything is forgotten, like the moment you hear, no matter what someone has done to you, the moment you hear that someone passed away in the family, or something's afflicted them, like everything’s forgotten, you make amends for them but the fact that through death they continue to stay apart I think that just shows that they're not treated like people should be treated. Alicya: Yeah even their bodies, they're outcasted, like they're not allowed to be buried in proper graveyards, they have to keep building on top of those. What did you learn from the trip? Shamena: I think it was a very humbling experience, I think when I came back I realised that I spend my money on a lot of silly things, things like food, you really appreciate food after I think. Because you’ll go down to like Nando's and spend like £15 without questioning it, but it can make such a difference to someone else's life. Alicya: I think it just sounds generic, but like you really feel grateful for everything that you have and you see how little things bring so much happiness to people and its really humbling and it makes you just think twice about things I think. Abdurrahman: Yeah I think in terms of learning things, all of these are things that everyone's heard a million times, but I think being able to actually experience it and see it for yourself, really brings it a lot closer to home, when you actually see it. You’ve been there, you’ve spoken to the people, you’ve experienced the environment, you mentioned already, it makes you appreciate what you have, I mean personally that is the case, because you compare what you have, to what they have. While we’re working, while we’re living we’re always trying to get more, accumulate more, and we always compare ourselves, at least with material wealth, to millionaires, billionaires, whatever. We say if we had what they had then we’d be so happy, we wouldn’t be spoiled [like them], if you look at their kids, you get jealous, we look at these rich people. But then when you really compare yourself, what you have to what these people have, you realise that the situation is flipped completely, you're now in that very luxurious position but you're not as grateful as you thought you'd be or as happy as you thought you'd be, so it really brings it a lot closer to home, that we’ve really been given a lot a things. Zaidi: I think for me personally, it’s quite motivating in the sense that, the first two days we were at refugee camps, they were very poor facilities, there were like seven families to a toilet, it was like bare minimum wasn’t even reached. On the third day, we went to an orphanage, like a school, we mentioned before, the Bee Academy. And what motivated me particularity about that place, was that this school was built up probably better than any school I’ve been to. It had like 3D printers, it had proper laptops, it had like state of the art everything, and it was only for orphans. For me that kind of encapsulated the verse in Surah Al Fajr where it says “and honour the orphans”. And I think for me, like usually when we think of giving clothes, we give clothes we don’t wear, we give money that we weren’t going to spend, like just spare change, we give food that we don’t eat, but in this place they took things that most people wouldn’t have had at home, the printers they wouldn't have had at home, the computers they wouldn’t have had at home, things like that. But they went over and beyond for the orphans and inshaAllah that will give them like a good setting in life, so they can go on to achieve good things. I think that’s the key at the end of the day. Like all this aid, it’s necessary in the sense that they need it to survive but to break that cycle of poverty, which we saw in the Palestinian refugee camp, you need to get out and you need to get jobs and education is the key to that, and for me Bee Academy just encapsulated that perfectly. It was honouring the orphans and it was trying to break the cycle. - This is only a snapshot into the lives of refugees at camps in Lebanon, whilst so many are displaced in different situations.  If you would like to make a donation, follow the link below: