Manale in her office at the Nahr El Bared Women's Program Center in northern Lebanon.

Meet an Inspiring Woman from Nahr El Bared

December 10th, 2014 by ANERA

In 2002, Manale Hamid Abdel Al Aal, joined a women’s program in Nahr El Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon. Like other women in the camp, she wanted to take sewing classes to earn some income and help support her family. 

Right from the start it was clear that Manale had a great talent for designing sophisticated clothing and for teaching. Her newly uncovered talents quickly opened up opportunities for her to teach at Nahr El Bared’s Women’s Program Center. “As women, sewing is the best thing to learn, if we want to support our families and make a living,” says Manale.

She didn’t stop there. Soon she was appointed to the center’s board of managers and she took on even more responsibilities, from fundraising to implementing curricula, developing programs, recruiting students and empowering women like herself.

Rebuilding Life in Nahr El Bared

Then came the 2007 battle between extremists hiding in the camp and Lebanese security forces. Most everyone in the camp was forced to flee the violence and destruction. Manale and her family were among those who found refuge in Beddawi camp near Tripoli.

“When and how do we start again?”

Settled in Beddawi camp, Manale found she could not remain idle. So she joined the camp’s Women’s Program Center in that camp and volunteered to distribute necessities to her fellow newcomers. Five months later, she returned to Nahr El Bared to find her house, the women’s center, her neighborhood and everything else around her demolished. The shocking scenery paralyzed her, but not for long. She says she did not stop to ask why. She just asked, “When and how do we start again?”

Manale says she used to blame her grandfather for leaving Palestine and coming to live as a lifelong refugee in Lebanon. Then she found the tables turned on her. “I was afraid not to come back to the camp,” she declared. “My family might have blamed me, this time, for turning them into refugees for yet again.”

She borrowed 25 plastic chairs, rented small space that had not been damaged and called psychologists from Beddawi camp to help her organize a psychosocial support group for the camp’s women. She says once most everyone was healed it was time to rebuild the women’s center.

Pastry students work on a cake at the Women's Program Center in Nahr El Bared.

Pastry students work on a cake at the Women’s Program Center in Nahr El Bared.

She reopened the center in 2008 and relaunched sewing courses for women. This time she added other classes aimed at producing traditional Arabian furniture needed in houses destroyed by the war. And, she got funds from the Swiss Embassy to start a pastry class. The first women graduates entered the job market within six months. Based on her early success and with funding from ANERA, Manale now conducts regular vocational training classes in pastry-making.

When you ask her where her hope and resilience come from, Manale smiles and simply says, “We are Palestinians. We can teach the world what hope and resilience mean.”

There are few open spaces in the West Bank where kids can play safely. Most communities have no public parks. Even cities like Al Bireh or Ramallah have few open spaces or parks where families can gather.

For Al Bireh, that reality has changed, thanks to the newest Al Bayyara park that opened there in November. In partnership with local municipalities, the Bank of Palestine and private donors, ANERA has changed the landscape in West Bank communities by turning empty rubble-filled plots into beautifully landscaped public parks with shaded benches and playgrounds. Al Bayyara means orange grove in Arabic.

Each park creates jobs for local construction workers and craftsmen in villages that suffer from unemployment and economic hardships.

Shiraz Abu Mas’oud is a mother of two girls and two boys aged 2 to 13. She says her children, young and old, were excited when she announced they were all going to the new park. “I took them all because it suits all ages,” says Shiraz.

Shiraz says the park has already encouraged her neighbors to build a better sense of community and cooperation. Shiraz and other mothers in the neighborhood have discussed contributing to the park as a community to add new games and benches after a guard is appointed by the municipality.

They have also though of ways to keep it clean. Shiraz’s 10-year-old son Mufid, and 13- year-old daughter Razan both want to encourage other kids who use the park to help keep it clean. Mufid says he loves the swings the best and is looking forward to enjoying them with his school friends.

Children love the swings in the new playground ANERA just opened in Al Bireh, West Bank.Mufid and Razan go to the same school and feel like the park is a pleasant extension of their classroom. “We sometimes take classes out here and it’s quite fun,” says Razan.

Vivian Sulieman is Mufid and Razan’s science teacher in the elementary school across the street from the park. She has worked as a teacher for 18 years and believes in contemporary education and the need for children to learn in different stimulating environments. “I am a mother myself and I know how difficult it is for parents to find time during the day to take the kids out for a fun activity or some fresh air, especially when there are no parks around. I believe that taking students outside the classroom has a terrific, positive effect on them.”

Recently, Vivian says she brought her older students out to the park where she taught a class on healthy eating and nutrition. “I thought the kids needed a change of scenery and something to reenergize them,” Vivian knows that some students get bored and lose interest when they’re sitting all day inside. “So this is a good way to unleash their creativity and imagination. They love being outside in nature.”

Shiraz and her neighbors love seeing their children interact and converse with other kids at their school or at the park. She believes such parks deepen their sense of belonging to the community. “My older children are ambitious and long to be part of a positive change in their school and in their community,” she proudly explains.New playground equipment, like this slide, is a favorite feature in the Al Bayyara park just opened in Al Bireh, West Bank.

 

Mahmoud lives in a small village that has been surrounded by the Israeli security wall.

My Grandmother is as Patient as a Cactus

December 5th, 2014 by ANERA

Meet Halima Hamdan from Al-Khasa village in East Bethlehem

by Mahmoud Hmida, Halima’s 24-year-old grandson

110, that’s how old my grandmother is. She encapsulates our entire family history and, really, our whole village’s history too. Her name “Halima” means “patient,” and that certainly describes her exactly.

We are Bedouins. Life was very harsh for Halima growing up. They had so little of everything compared to our times, yet their lives were richer than ours. They barely owned anything, yet they had all the time in the world. They lived in small raggedy tents, yet all the land that stretched before their eyes was their home. They slept in the bareness of nature, yet their eyes and hearts knew no fear or insecurity.

Halima-Hamdan

The marks on Halima’s face are tattoos, with which Bedouins used to embellish themselves on happy occasions.

Today my town is sleepless. Our hearts are heavy with burdens. They ache for our stolen lands. Our children live in horror. Our young men are targeted. And I sometimes think that my grandmother is better off with having dementia, I wouldn’t want her to shed tears over her lost land, or stare at the ‘apartheid’ wall with sorrow in her heart.

Starting in 2002 we felt the pressure of Israeli occupation creeping in and crushing us for the first time. It all began with a military checkpoint that prevented us from exiting the area whenever we wished, and kept us far away from Jerusalem.

But the real heartache came soon after with the building of a nasty wall that isolated us from our own lands. Today I look out my window and see the checkpoint and barbed wires surrounding us. To people like us, our land is life itself. It is our bread and butter, our sweat and blood.

Halima suffers from hypertension and diabetes. Nurses from a nearby clinic visit her regularly. The clinic receives shipments of donated health care supplies and medicines from ANERA and Halima has been able to take advantage of a whole range of free medicines.

The people whose hearts ache the most are the elderly, like my grandmother. You can consider her as a personification of the land, for they are one and the same. She suckled from the land’s bounty as a child, and in turn, she nurtured the land as she would her own children. She walked with it and sang to it every day. They conversed every day with shared language. As they grow older they resemble each other more and more. Now, when I look at my grandmother’s wrinkles, I see our land.

I remember as a child I listened to her stories from her childhood and youth. She used to fetch water twice a day from a nearby village and carry it in a pottery jar on her head. They were so poor they could not afford a donkey to help them with the water. Owning a donkey to them back then would be like owning a Ferrari now.

But they used to cooperate to get things done. Community was family to them, so they used to take care of one another, and offer a helping hand to anyone in need, although they were all poor. They mourned and celebrated together.

My grandmother was a breadwinner, and was bursting with energy and strength. Even in her nineties, she would walk past the checkpoint to a nearby village to sell her vegetables and dairy products.

That’s actually how she broke her leg eight years ago. Ever since that accident, she has not been able to walk. She lies flat on her back most of the day now and can barely move a limb. Even though she has lost her memory, she still asks for her children.

My grandmother has the tenderest heart. She used to shower us with her affection and love.

West Bank Olive TreeI know I’ll never forget the morning smell of her freshly baked taboun [flatbread] that she was so good at making. I’ll also never forget the olive picking season and how we all used to gather to help her and my grandfather with the harvest and olive oil. I can still taste her minty tea in the shade of an olive tree, and hear her sing traditional harvest songs.

My grandmother’s patience resembles that of a cactus. Her strength is like an ancient olive tree and her delicate soul is a wild poppy; so simple, fragile and beautiful.

 

There is no doubt that some people master the art of war, but in the narrow alleyways of Lebanon’s refugee camps, some people master an art despite war.

Hossam Khankan, 14, is from Homs in Syria. Three years ago, he and his family fled the civil war and found safety in Halba in northern Lebanon. His family left everything behind. But Hossam still remembers his school days when he felt happy and safe, playing football on the streets of Homs with friends. But he left them all behind when his family fled to Lebanon. “On my last day in Homs, I gathered with my friends next to the school yard and we said good-bye and promised to meet again,” said Hossam. “Then I left.” After he settled in Lebanon, his only friend from Syria died in an explosion in Tripoli.

But life has changed for Hossam after he joined ANERA’s Sports For Peace program, where he is learning Capoeira, along with other kids from Halba.

If you want to see his eyes sparkle, just ask what Capoeira is. “It’s a mix of martial arts, dance and drums.” And, then he’ll quickly offer to show off some moves.

The Capoeira classes have offered Hossam some happiness and space to express himself, his nostalgia, his desire to go back home, his dream of becoming a professional singer and dancer, and a chance to sing for Syria. “Art makes people love each other,” Hossam says.

Hossam’s dream is to become a professional singer. “I want to go back to Syria and learn singing and dancing at the art institute in Damascus.” But Hossam says his biggest dream is to return home to Homs. “Our house was heaven on earth but now it lies in ruins,” he says.

Hossam says he faces a lot of bullying and racism while playing with kids from Halba. “Kids run after me saying, ‘You are Syrian. Go back home!’ But, I defend myself saying we are all humans and once we go back home you can come visit and I welcome you with hospitality and kindness.”

In Lebanon, Hossam shows a move he learned in Capoeira, is a mix of martial arts, dance and drums.
In Lebanon, Hossam does a move that looks like breakdancing, but it's Capoeira.
Hossam, a refugee from Syria, is living in northern Lebanon with his family. He is 14 and doing his best in a society that has little room for him.
Hossam makes a peace sign to honor the Sports for Peace program, which brought together 600 youths at the running event in Akkar, Lebanon.

Hossam Khankan Does Capoeira Move

In Lebanon, Hossam shows a move he learned in Capoeira, is a mix of martial arts, dance and drums.

No, This Isn't Breakdancing

In Lebanon, Hossam is mastering Capoeira through ANERA's Sports for Peace program. The activity is bringing joy back into his life, after his family fled the Syrian war.

Hossam in School in northern Lebanon

Hossam, a refugee from Syria, is living in northern Lebanon with his family. He is 14 and doing his best in a society that has little room for him.

Hossam Khankan, Participant in ANERA's Mini-Marathon in Lebanon

Hossam makes a peace sign to honor the Sports for Peace program, which brought together 600 youths at the running event in Akkar, Lebanon.

Hossam Khankan Does Capoeira Move thumbnail
No, This Isn't Breakdancing thumbnail
Hossam in School in northern Lebanon thumbnail
Hossam Khankan, Participant in ANERA's Mini-Marathon in Lebanon thumbnail
Mohammad's second home: the electronics lab at Hadi El Debs Institute in Beirut, where he is studying.

Robotics in Lebanon: Mohammad the Robot Maker

December 4th, 2014 by ANERA

Mohammad El Hamad, aged 22, was a poor student growing up in Saida, South, Lebanon. He wasn’t great at math and had no head for theory. But he has a passion – robots – and from his earliest years he knew he wanted to be a robotics engineer.

“After failing in high school three times, and knowing that my parents couldn’t keep on paying for my education, I had to choose a major that would land me a job so I could give back to my family,” says Mohammad. “The dream of building robots and my obsession with electronics were haunted me badly, but it seemed an impossible ambition given my academic failures.”

He followed his heart, though, and now Mohammad is in his third year studying electronics at the Hadi El Debs Institute in Beirut, on a scholarship that ANERA has provided. “This scholarship came to bring hope back into my life at a time when I almost lost it.”

His teachers are so impressed at what he is accomplishing, especially considering his grades in high school. He is an outstanding student who has excelled in every subject – spending extra time in the lab, coming up with innovative projects. Asked about this radical leap, he says, “When my hobby and studies meet I definitely excel.”

Mohammad, an ANERA scholarship student, is a favorite with his teachers at the El Debs Institute in Beirut.

Mohammad, an ANERA scholarship student, is a favorite with his teachers at the Debs Institute in Beirut.

Mohammad is devouring research, articles and news about robots. He sees himself building a personal robot for entertainment and for daily tasks. “My robot will dance, sing, and play soccer. It’ll even do the dishes, a thing we hate doing every day,” says Mohammad. “If I have to give my robot a superpower, it will be a ‘solution generator’ for every humanitarian issue.”

Read more about ANERA’s support for students like Mohammad.

When talking to Mohammad you learn that success is less a matter of innate talent and more the product of perseverance. He is willing to stumble and stand up again and again, despite failures and mistakes.

“My aunt was my hero,” he says. “She always taught me never to let go of my dream, never to lose hope, determination and motivation, and always to watch over my family. When she died of cancer, a big piece of my heart died as well. But remembering her lessons bring me back to the path my heart wants me to take. That gives me the strength and perseverance I need to face of all of the terrible challenges that life has thrown at me.”

“My next step is to finish my studies, find a good job and save some money. I want to get into a good program abroad where I can learn more about robotics. My big dream is to come back to Lebanon, establish an electronics company, and recruit young people who have unfulfilled and undervalued dreams.”