The Power of a Little Library

 

Embrace works closely with a number of different organisations in Beirut and across Lebanon. Our dear friend and partner Sylvia Haddad, who works as the Director of the JCC, shared this touching update from the midst of a refugee camp during the Covid 19 outbreak. 

JCC is the Lebanese arm of the Department for Services to Palestinian refugees (DSPR) and is one of the longest serving Lebanese NGOs working with Palestinian refugees.

JCC has projects running in nine of the 12 Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, and Embrace currently supports two of these JCC projects.

As the scare of the COVID-19 virus spread in the small Palestinian refugee camp of Dbayeh, like it did in the rest of the world, the JCC library/Community Center and all educational, cultural and fun programs stood still. Living in a refugee camp where people live in close proximity, the threat of the spread of a virus they had never heard of, was a real scare. As per the Lebanese government orders, all educational and other facilities in the country were closed and like everywhere else in the world, lockdown was enforced with people trying to stay home and follow safety instructions.

In the midst of this threatening epidemic situation and with the closure of the center of life in the Dabyeh camp - the Library - an unlikely voice rose. It was the voice of no other than the librarian Samar Habib. "We cannot stand still" she said.

'We have to help spread awareness but we also have to keep the library and the educational activities going. It's the only way to survive this horrid epidemic.'

For the past few years, the JCC library had become the center and hub of activities for this impoverished camp, perched on a hill to the north of Beirut. Once a derelict premise, it is today - thanks to JCC - a thriving community center providing not only a library but a place where children meet for after-school homework sessions, educational games, computer lessons, music lessons,  choir practice and many other programs. It is an open area where women meet to discuss their problems and learn how to best deal with them.

Moreover, it is where the camp's  teenagers have found a sense of belonging  as they do tasks helping out in various activities which  gives them a sense of much needed self-worth.

Shutting down the library and all our educational programs is just unimaginable, said Samar. We cannot lose a year of the educational progress of our children 'Let's do what others are doing,' Samar told her colleagues as she gathered them,

'Let's go online. We will learn how to do it as we go along.'

This turned out to be easier said than done, given the endless electricity cuts the community have now become accustomed to.  'We will just have to do what we can when we can,' said Habib to her colleagues, 'it’s better than not doing anything at all.'

And so it was that the refugees of Dbayeh camp were introduced to the world of studying through the media of WhatsApp, video instructions, zoom meetings and various other platforms. Lessons were disseminated, exams given and corrected and school support for those studying online in other schools carried out.   Interactive awareness sessions about hygiene and safety were broadcast along with the health ministry guidelines.

Meanwhile, the library was routinely sprayed with disinfectant as were the alleys of the camp- a task first carried out by the Palestinian Defense young men and continued by our own JCC young men. And as the lockdown eased in the country, the camp residents emerged from their homes - all wearing masks and carrying disinfectants as instructed by Samar and her team through all the online means.

Upon Samar's insistence, some of the activities were resumed such as the popular storytelling hour for children sitting far apart and a "house skills" training for women - a course they started and were very happy to resume.

As people ask Samar how is your camp dealing with this new way of life, Habib smiles and says 'if only people know the power of a little library'.                 

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