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Calling All Sponsors

text and photographs by Marilyn Raschka

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Sponsors of children enrolled in CNEWA-Pontifical Mission’s Needy Child Program in Lebanon, this one’s for you. I owe you. You’ve done the work. I’ve had the fun. You’ve given generously. I’ve received the thanks.

On a sunny January day in Beirut, I met up with Marlene Chamieh, PMP’s Needy Child Program Coordinator. We visited three institutions where your sponsored children live, study, or come for social assistance: the Mouvement de la Jeunesse Orthodox (The Orthodox Youth Movement), the convent and school of Zahrat al Ihsan and Our Lady of Presentation. All three are important social welfare institutions sponsored by Metropolitan Elias Audi, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Beirut.

Behind the Arabic or French names you write on your checks and cards are boys and girls who know you as Mr. or Mrs., plus their renditions of your surnames. In short, these children appreciate your monthly checks, treasure your letters and cards and hope this message reaches you. But that is much too short.

Each child has a story – some are sadder than others. But you deserve the bottom line: thanks to you, these sad stories have, and will have, happier endings.

Let me begin with Ghassan, a pudgy six-year-old with rascal written all over his face. As we sat in an office, waiting to meet the two dozen or so mothers and sponsored children who had come to meet us, the door eased open. Expecting someone to bring in the traditionally offered cup of coffee, I raised my eyes to the height of an adult. Instead, I had to adjust quickly, for this impish child, Ghassan, was peeking around the door.

Ghassan, who is autistic, had spent most of his young life withdrawn and silent. Hours of work with a speech therapist produced no results. Sessions with a psychiatrist didn’t help either. But professional contact with his family helped the psychiatrist peg the problem: emotional abuse.

Ghassan’s smile today is a recent addition. His words are the beautiful result of the work of a center for abused and neglected children the Pontifical Mission also supports. It was there that he spoke his first words. But life is not like those first words, soft and shy. Ghassan needed yet another helping hand, one that could give him a little training in assertiveness.

When Samira Tabbal of the Mouvement de la Jeunesse Orthodox took on Ghassan she took her cue from life around her. In Beirut, the freshest vegetables and fruits are available from itinerant vendors. Some sell from carts, others from pickup trucks. The truckers announce their arrival in the neighborhood by blasting news of their produce and prices through a loudspeaker system. As they move through the streets, a simple “50 cents for a kilo of oranges” is turned into a 10-second soliloquy on citrus.

Samira knew that Ghassan’s pudginess didn’t come from being a picky eater. With a stroke of genius, she combined his love of food with every child’s love of make-believe. Offering him a megaphone, she soon had him pretending he was out in the streets selling potatoes and watermelons and, of course, those wonderful oranges: “Bataata. Battiikh. Boordhan.”

Slowly, the “crutch” of the megaphone was put aside and Ghassan could face the world with words and that beautiful smile, Samira had conquered his shyness.

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Tags: Lebanon CNEWA Children Sponsorship