Weekend in Akkar
I spent the weekend before Christmas in the Akkar District of Lebanon.
Akkar is a district near the Syrian border where a Sunni Muslim majority lives alongside Christians and Alawis. It is one of the poorest regions in Lebanon and has a growing population of refugees. For these reasons, as well as others, this area is a breeding ground for extremism. In fact, that weekend, a top leader in Da3sh/ISIS was apprehended in Akkar at the same time I was there.
The group that hosted me is called Relief and Reconciliation for Syria. Their work combines peacebuilding, humanitarian aid and interfaith dialogue. The group has a “Peace Center” in the small village of Bkaizla, which is where we stayed. It is there that youth from Syria and Lebanon are given educational, emotional support.
One of the traits that sets this group apart is their efforts to work alongside of the various leaders of the Syrian Refugee communities that they serve. Together, they do such things as operate schools and create opportunities for young people to process their refugee experience such as art and drama.
On Saturday morning, we spent time in one of the refugee communities that Relief and Reconciliation works with. These are Sunni Muslims from Homs, Syria.
A small school was built at the camp. It was immaculate and well-kept, reflective of the value that education has in this community. One of the seasoned leaders shared with me the noticeable difference that a regular rhythm of class and structure has on refugee children. Those who have it have a much greater capacity to deal with the stress and hardships that their family is facing.
An Italian journalist team I was traveling with was busy doing interviews for a documentary, which gave me a chance to pull out my puppets and hang out with the kids.
A few of the Dads decided to join in.
I love seeing Middle Eastern men interact with their kids.
Really enjoyed hanging out with this Syrian kid at the camp. He took an interest in my camera, so I showed him the ropes, and he quickly became a pro lining up shots. Here’s a shot he took of the chicken truck that came into the camp.
Our next stop was the Relief and Reconciliation School.
In addition to regular school subjects, the school does a lot of art, drama and music to help the refugee. youth better process their experience of loss and brokenness.
Above left is a theater stage used to help children express their feelings. Above right is a teacher and student in art therapy class.
Sifting through the photos I take at the camps, I see this a lot: a kid full of life and joy one second, and in the next shot you see the sorrow and trauma that is nonetheless there. That’s why there are groups like Relief and Reconciliation who are dedicated to helping kids on the journey toward wholeness.
Both of these pictures were done by a Sunni refugee. While I was admiring the painting on the left, my Arabic friend pointed to the black figure in the middle. “The problem,” he said. He then pointed to the two church figures: “Not the problem.”
The church Elmarie & I attend (ICC) donated this van that takes kids from the Relief and Reconciliation School back to the refugee camp. It’s jam-packed, but the walk is too much for the little ones.
What is the one image of this place that I would like to leave with you? Probably that of Muslim kids being goofballs. We spent a lot of time that day devoted to goofball pursuits, just like all kids do.
It was a really good day.