Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
16 July 2019
Doreen Abi Raad

Students at Fratelli enjoy a sports class. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)

In the new edition of ONE, journalist Doreen Abi Raad profiles a place Where Education Is Alive, the Fratelli Center in Lebanon. She offers some additional impressions below.

To reach the Fratelli Center in Rmeileh, Lebanon, the exit from the coastal highway near the southern city of Sidon leads to a lovely, winding road dotted with all kinds of flowering trees.

I imagine that Syrian refugee children, living nearby in dire conditions, perhaps also admire the beautiful landscape on their way to and from the center on the bus provided by CNEWA.

Fratelli is a non-profit association jointly founded by the De La Salle Brothers and Marist Brothers in Lebanon in 2016 with the goal of organizing educational, social and cultural activities for poor and vulnerable children.

From the former Marist Our Lady of Fatima school in Rmeileh, abandoned during Lebanon’s civil war, the Fratelli Center serves more than 600 children and youth, Syrian refugees as well as poor Lebanese. Most of the students are Muslim. Teachers and volunteers are Muslim and Christian alike.

It’s morning recess time. Children are running, screeching, laughing, some kicking soccer balls, immersed in exuberant momentum. Yet there’s nothing chaotic: It’s simply blissful joy, every child’s face radiant with a smile.

Three young boys run to Marist Brother Andrés Porras, hugging him in unison, nearly knocking him over with their enthusiasm. “How are you today?” he asks the students, returning their hugs and encouraging them to speak in English.

“For me, these children are the daily presence of God, it is very transparent, how they share their happiness and look in your eyes with such pureness,” Brother Andrés says.

When it’s time to get serious at the ringing of a teacher’s handbell, the children quietly line up, ready to return to classrooms, still brimming with joy. They are so eager to learn.

In the first grade classroom for Syrian refugee children, a colorful poster of “Fratelli Class Rules” is prominently displayed. The rules include: ”I will be honest and kind…I will respect myself and others…I will not be a bully…I will do my best…I come to school to learn.” The students indeed are doing their best, listening to their teacher with rapt attention and confidently reciting arithmetic drills in English.

For Fratelli’s afternoon basic literacy and numeracy program for youth, 16-year-old Zahra arrives with a sweet smile, after working in agriculture from 6 am to noon with her father, to help support her family. They fled to Lebanon from Idlib, Syria in 2012.

Zahra expected that with no fear of war, everything would be better in Lebanon. But life in her adopted country has been very difficult, she admits with a mature resolve. Her family lives in poverty; she missed out on school for several years, and she must work to help out financially.

Thanks to Fratelli, Zahra has restarted her education, opening a path for a better future. Ever since she was young, Zahra dreamed of being a pediatrician.

Zahra hopes to return to her homeland someday. But she would like her country to be as it was before the war.

For now, Zahra considers Fratelli “my second home.”

“Or to be honest, it is my main home. It’s the place where I feel free,” she says, adding that the teachers “are like a family to me.”

Read more about Fratelli in the July 2019 edition of ONE.

Tags: Lebanon Refugees

9 January 2019
Doreen Abi Raad

CNEWA donor Dr. Camille Salame provides medical examinations to Syrian women on a visit to the Karagheusian Center in Lebanon. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)

The current edition of ONE features a profile of Lebanon’s Karagheusian Socio-Medical Center, a refuge for refugees that helps them adapt to their new surroundings. Writer Doreen Abi Raad has some additional impressions of her visit there:

It’s easy to get lost navigating the maze of tiny streets in the Beirut suburb of Bourj Hammoud. But ask anyone in the bustling neighborhood for directions to the Karagheusian Medico-Social Center, and it’s as though you are receiving a welcoming invitation to their home.

For nearly 100 years, the clinic has been a landmark. It began serving the Armenian community at the beginning of the 20th century, reaching out to refugees who settled in Bourj Hammoud after fleeing the Ottoman massacres.

Now Karagheusian also serves refugees from neighboring Syria. Since 2011, tiny Lebanon has absorbed more than one million people displaced from the Syrian conflict.

At the clinic, a team of 40 rotating doctors, plus a staff of 40, serves 4,000 patients a month. Of those, 3,000 are Syrian refugees and 1,000 are from the Lebanese host community. About two-thirds of the clinic’s current beneficiaries are Muslim.

On a typical morning, worn strollers are lined in a row outside near the entrance to the sunny yellow building that houses the center.

Inside, at the central reception desk a nurse named Vartouq, with an engaging smile, rocks an infant in her arms while the baby’s mother tends to her young son. “I love babies,” Vartouq says. ”I want to see them well and in good health.”

Soon after, Vartouq is comforting a toddler girl who is crying pitifully during her vaccination shot. “You’re my sweetheart and you’re brave,” Vartouq reassures, gently holding a tiny hand in her own.

“I like to help everybody. All are God’s children,” Vartouq says, as dozens of mothers with their children patiently wait their turn to meet with staff.

This is the spirit that permeates the busy Karagheusian Center. The misery that the refugees carry from their catastrophic experiences seems to vanish as they enter the center, where they are welcomed with open arms. I was so touched by the loving care and support they receive. It is as if a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders.

Dr. Camille Salame, a neurosurgeon from Norwich, Connecticut, and a longtime contributor to CNEWA, likened the mission of the Karagheusian Center to that of Mother Teresa’s call to do ”small acts with great love.”

Some months earlier, Dr. Salame had contacted CNEWA, offering to provide any service he could during his visit to his native Lebanon.

That outreach led to Dr. Salame presenting a talk on back and neck pain for a group of some 150 Syrian Armenian Christian refugee women who gather each week as part of Karagheusian’s social service initiatives supported by CNEWA. After the talk, the doctor tirelessly met with 25 women for individual consultations.

Karagheusian’s social services arm, which includes a team of eight social workers, is aimed at providing support and encouragement, to help both refugees and vulnerable members of the host community to live a dignified life. Those initiatives include home visits, after school tutorial programs, a summer camp for children, trauma therapy sessions, vocational training for women to learn income-generating skills and women’s empowerment groups.

“I’m happy to see how much help the community is receiving,” said Dr. Salame of his visit to the Karagheusian center. “This is an oasis of hope.”

Read more about A Refuge in Lebanon in the December 2018 edition of ONE.

Tags: Lebanon