The Good News in Dbayeh

by Michael Healy
photos by Sr. Christian Molidor, R.S.M.

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The tragedies of Lebanon are no longer news. The continuous indiscriminate violence, the political power struggles, the false hope of temporary cease-fires, the starvation of innocent mothers and children, the kidnapping and disappearances of scores of men and women, the murder done in the name of God – these blasphemies have seemed to go on forever, though most have happened in the last twelve years.

Still, the unexpected is news – though it is not new. Christianity lives on there. Amid the horror of its camps, there is a life-giving compassion. In the cruelest human savagery, there is a priceless loving done in the name of Christ. Here is the Christ of mercy, compassion, sacrifice, and redemption. Here is the still strong flame of hope.

The truest strength of Christianity here is found in those who serve.

Georgette is a member of the French Holy Family religious order. Her thin, youthful features almost suggest frailty, but her strength and determination show in her sharp eyes and strong voice. A native Lebanese, she has chosen to serve the embattled residents of one of Beirut’s beleaguered, poor refugee camps.

The Dbayeh camp was set up twenty-five years ago for 2500 displaced Palestinians. In recent years, as the destruction of Lebanese towns, villages, and cities has left large numbers of the population homeless, displaced Lebanese have been moving into the camp, multiplying the collective misery.

Today it is difficult to estimate the number of people here or the percentage who are native Lebanese. Perhaps sixty-five percent are Christians, with the remainder Muslims. Destroyed and rebuilt many times, these shelters for families usually are no more than a few square feet. In the narrow alleyways which serve as streets through the camp, open sewage gives off its putrid scent as it courses its way through the camp.

With a population of a small city, Dbayeh suffers some of the worst poverty possible. Little food is available. Pay employment is even more scarce. Few men are seen in the camp, and the elders repair fishing nets which may never be used again. Boys shoot marbles on one of the few level places in the camp, outside one of the eight latrines in the camp. Women carry plastic buckets of water to their homes, which may have no more than two walls and a makeshift roof. They cook the scarce provisions they can find over open fires, made of ever scarcer kindling. Shelling and sniper-fire are to be expected. Tanks usually encircle the camp.

Sister Georgette first came to Dbayeh five years ago, when she was twenty-four and a novice of the Holy Family congregation. Chaos had descended on the camp well before that point. Without running water or electricity, residents were learning to improvise their lives – looking for a way to survive the day.

Georgette looked for a way to create some hope among the residents. So, she looked to their future, the children.

Two basic needs of their children were left unattended because of the years of turmoil. Health care and education programs had disappeared from the camp. Even though women still became pregnant and the surviving children still grew toward adolescence, life was an exercise in futility. The United Nations support for the camp had been decreasing because of severe financial cutbacks in the relief agency.

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Tags: Lebanon Education Christianity Poor/Poverty Refugee Camps