Thursday, August 03, 2006

New heroes

For all of you who probably have no idea how ordinary people here are helping the refugees I will explain.
I think it is very important.
It all began when I got a message from a friend of my sister's...he said he needed help because he had 'two schools' he was sending food to and he needed volunteers to help pack the bags and take them to the school.
I had no idea what he meant by 'two schools'…
So I went.
Not really knowing what I was going to do.
I entered this 'center' that consisted of a series of rooms. There were bags lying everywhere and someone said ...'put two tuna cans into each bag' i did and that is how it all started...
In the first week of the war we had about 400 bags to fill up with whatever was bought that day with donated money. i liked that this center had no affiliation to any political group, religion or culture. The 'center' is an educational center which was used for children's after school activities. Now it is filled with boxes and boxes of different kinds of food. Bread is always important but mostly it is canned food such as tuna, meat, peas or cheese. On good days the kids got chips and sweets. We fill smaller bags of tea, milk and sugar. We sort diapers according to size and milk and baby food. All in all each family of six gets one bag. We would spend hours filling these bags.

A few of the people helping I knew already...most I didn't but got to know. And the environment is truly great. We don't really have long conversations...just sit...fill...laugh a lot about nothing in particular... work systematically...and we know, at least, that we were doing something to help all these refugees…actually for me it is a way to keep sane…

No one really talks about the war...we all know the news so why repeat it...once in a while someone would come in and tell us some current news that had taken place...but all in was the standard...what is your name?...what do you do?...etc etc etc...The nice thing about it all is the mix of people.Friends call friends. The women who ran the education centre, the housewives who call their other housewife friends to come and help, the university students who suddenly found themselves without classes, the people with jobs who came after work, the mothers who brought their children to help, the refugee teenagers who found something to do with all their spare time…I can go on and on. But the important thing is it is truly what Lebanon is, a mixture of people and cultures; Old, young, from all corners of Lebanon…from cities or rural areas. Everything.

One boy…'Superman' I called him…because to every bag I carried he carried four….he told us they had remained in their village in the South for twelve days…under the shelling…and then they decided to leave... he said in those twelve days…everyday they said 'this was the last day and tomorrow it will stop'…he said it was worse than anything he had ever seen….these young men…what can I tell you about them?…they are timid…they work very hard…never really speak a lot…but they never stop until the task is finished…they do not take offers of an ice-cream or Pepsi from us easily….we have to physically put it in their hands for them to accept it…you feel their pride…

Yesterday I went and it was different.
The number of bags we had to fill was 1000.
Multiply that by six.
That is 6000 people.
And we were filling bags for a week's food supply.
It was heavy work yesterday.
We filled the bags with pasta, peas, lentils, milk, burghul, bread, rice among many other things. You see most of the families we discovered had stoves so they could cook. So the strategy was changed to accommodate this fact. And the bags were really heavy and big this time. Everytime I saw one of the bags, filled, tied up…I remembered Santa Claus for some reason…it is stupid I know…

And we were no longer giving schools as the welfare of the government had kicked in and was helping the schools. The problem was with all the people living in normal buildings. A flat here, a flat there…and no one really knew where they were or the conditions they lived in. It is truly heart wrenching to go to these places when we delivered their bags and hear their offers to us of 'stay…have a cup of coffee with us'…and we knew they had nothing but they still were generous and typically Lebanese with their offers…the first time I went to deliver the bags…it was hard…I tell you…I am not one of those naturally eloquent people…and I do find it hard to say the right things….but in these situations…I found…nothing needs to be said really…you see it in their eyes…in the children's eyes mostly…

I cannot tell you how much in awe I am of the people who run this center where I volunteer….they get the money (donated)…decide what to buy…go and get the food….help pack….the person running it all has opened his house which is above the center to the 'baby unit'….his mother cooks us sandwiches...invites us to lunch… but it is hard…and hard to sustain and I hope they hang on….Something should be done for all these people....really...i have no idea what...but everyone in this center and all the others around Beirut and Lebanon helping...doing...running around...trying to make life a little more bearable for people who are less fortunate in this crisis...I do not know...after all this is over...but I am sure they will end up saying...'I didn't do it for any recognition'....

What else can I say? In the past three weeks I have seen people who have decided to put their lives on hold to help and people who have decided to continue their lives like nothing has changed. And I keep wondering… which is better?...the semblence of keeping the same routine...or the acceptance that, for a while at least, things are different...maybe I shouldn't ask this question…but you see…I cannot help but think about it...
I guess I already have the answer...and as always..…the answer is simple….


Blogger supersababa said...

Could you email me, I am a journalist writing about Lebanese bloggers describing what is happening.

R. Eglash

2:57 AM  
Blogger MNA said...


Could you give more details about the center you are working at. I'd like to help?


3:05 AM  
Blogger rena said...

Hi mna,
The center is in Sadat Street, Hamra, in Beirut, opposite the large parking right after the SGBL bank...
You will see people going in and out the whole day...It is on the ground floor in the building on the corner.
Hope to see you there.

5:13 AM  
Blogger beirutee said...

Great Blog, you are totally right, these are all true heroes (you included).
As long as we remember to stick together despite all of our differences, there is still hope for this country.

6:52 AM  
Blogger xatunk said...

in everything bad, there is something good... this war is making Libanon stronger and stronger, maybe not fysical but emotional/spritual, and this in a time that the world is loosing it's spririt... I wish you and other Libanese people a lot of strength..

11:21 AM  
Blogger nounou :) said...


Your words are really inspiring.. as are your actions. I don't know you (i don't think, but you never know, maybe we do know each other..) anyway, i'm a friend of zena's and i got the link to your blog through hers. I have linked your blog through mine and today posted a part of your message.. in tact and as it was written.. you can check it out for yourself, if you like.. I will do all i can from where i'm sitting.. but thank you for everything.. (

11:30 AM  
Blogger Manuel Semaan said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:27 AM  
Blogger yves said...

thank you for the beautiful story

5:22 AM  
Blogger Margaret said...

I wish more people could read this.
I wish I could be there with you, helping. Do you know if the center is receiving any international aid? I have already donated to Mercy Corps but am trying to get a sense of other ways that I can help.

5:49 PM  
Blogger florentina said...

Hi Rena,

I am writing you from Bucharest-Romania and I just want to say that I am with you and with all lebanese people who suffer now.
It is an unfair war.

12:18 PM  

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