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A little joy goes a long way

On the occasion of the Family Festival for Syrian Refugees, LAU students bring the celebrations to the families of Ketermaya refugee camp.

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The students exchanged stories with the refugees and took the time to hear what they had to say.

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Once necessities such as diapers and baby powder had been sorted by the volunteers, they were distributed by Schellen, case by case, who provided as much as she could, depending on the ages and number of children in each family.

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Children enjoy fruits freshly served by the students to kick off an exciting day.

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The volunteers started off by getting to know the families and the children while serving them fresh fruits they had brought for them.

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Among the different activities organized was a game of musical chairs for the children.

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Students painted the children’s faces with colorful designs, from whiskers and butterflies to beards and patterns.

Last weekend, volunteer students from LAU Byblos, in collaboration with the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and the International Relief Friendship Foundation (IRFF) of Germany, paid a meaningful visit to Ketermaya refugee camp on the occasion of the Family Festival for Syrian Refugees to spark some happiness in the hearts of its residents.  

“The purpose of this day is to create special moments of joy for these families so that they can forget the difficult times for just a little while,” said Hermine Schellen, Secretary General of the UPF. “You cannot alleviate the struggle as a whole because you don’t have the means, but you can do the little things that boost their morale and give them hope,” she added.

Volunteer student Reef Torbey was quick to form strong bonds with many of the boys and girls running around. She had been waiting for an opportunity to do something for a long time, she said. “When it finally came, I had to sign up. We are all equal at the end of the day and it is our duty to help each other.”

“Your presence here has really changed the atmosphere and brought color to our day. It’s rare to see us all together like this,” said Nejmeh. At only 15 years old, the teenager works as a teacher at the camp and tries to impart what knowledge she had acquired at school before the war started.

Each and every student’s role as a volunteer—from distributing fruits to making conversation—played an integral part in making the day as pleasant as possible for the refugees.

“Connecting on the human level and on the ground is very different from just sending or donating things remotely,” said LAU student Josiane Matar. “This is why being here is so important.” 

Among the different activities organized was a game of musical chairs for the children, who were so excited to take their turn, one suspected they rarely got the chance to engage in play.

Ahmad Abbas, a helper at the camp, was glad to witness such simple positivity and celebratory spirit. “It’s just great to see them playing together. Usually the spirits aren’t as high as today, and kids don’t unite like this. They are more often dispersed around the camp and studying or doing something else,” he said. Abbas has been living at the camp for years, and has watched many children grow up. He lost a child of his own back in Syria and lives with his other son at the camp. “As long as there is change happening and something new being introduced every once in a while, it is definitely healthy for the children,” he added, pointing out that Schellen has been helping them out for years now.

For another LAU student who, having been caught smoking on campus, had been sent to Ketermaya to do community service, the experience was deeply moving. “I learnt a lot from that day, not only to appreciate what I have but to help others whenever possible; the people we met were the bravest people on earth.” He gave special thanks to the students’ supervisor, Assistant Program Coordinator at the Dean’s Office in Byblos Tina Panossian, for having shown him and his peers exactly how much of a difference just one person can make.

The event, which also included the distribution of some basic necessities, was hosted by General Manager of Al-Hayat and Nour Association, Ali Tafesh, who runs the camp and has been doing his utmost to keep it in shape, providing it with electricity and water among other things. “We’ve been doing this for six and a half years now, and we are always trying to help as much as we can. I just hope that we can get access to more needed resources, such as food and heating oil, as they are lacking,” he explained. On a tour of the camp, Tafesh showed the students the two small classrooms where the children are taught― built with the help of the UPF―as well as the playground that was constructed especially for them.

The children were sad to see the volunteers leave, and kept asking when the next time would be. “It really makes you appreciate a lot in life,” said volunteer Miriam Asmar, “Your whole perspective changes. The things we’ve brought them are really nothing in comparison to the time we’ve spent with them.”

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