My introduction to the Palestinian refugee crisis in Lebanon

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Helping refugees in need in Lebanon

In the late 1970s, during a lull in the Lebanese Civil War, a small plane laden with 60 tons of medications landed at the Beirut airport. The air shipment was the result of a real grassroots effort. As a student at the University of Munich in Germany, I had joined a small group of people collecting donations of medicine and medical supplies to distribute to the Palestinian refugee camps in war-torn Lebanon. The initiative was led by a young Palestinian doctor in Munich who had grown up in the Burj El Burajneh Refugee Camp

As I and two others from the group traveled throughout Lebanon from one refugee camp to another, I was exposed for the first time to the ravages of war and introduced to the Palestinian refugee crisis. It was a life changing experience.

I don’t think it is possible to step into a refugee camp and leave as the same person.

To this day, I remember the faces of the orphaned children I met and the sadness of the refugees who showed me their keys to the ancestral homes they were forced to leave behind in Palestine.

Several years later, I returned to the U.S. and enrolled in the Master of Arts program in Middle Eastern Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. During that time I met Peter Gubser, then head of Anera, and found a home for my desire to continue to work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.

I was impressed by Anera’s philosophy of working directly with the refugees, listening and responding to their needs, whether it involved building schools and medical clinics, delivering medicine, clothing and food supplies or teaching unemployed Palestinian youth viable work skills. Anera had established itself as a beacon of hope for generations of Palestinian refugees living in occupied Palestine, Gaza and Lebanon.

Children in Burj El Barajneh await their new backpacks.
Children in Burj El Barajneh await their new backpacks.

Fast forward more than a few decades and my husband and I continue to dedicate a large part of our life to educating people about the Palestinian refugee crisis. For the last 22 years we have also welcomed into our home two young Palestinian musicians chosen every summer to study at Simon Shaheen’s Arabic Music Retreat.

Saying goodbye to our two music students from this summer
Saying goodbye to our two music students from this summer: Balkis (left, from the Golan Heights) and Mohamed (from Palestine) at Boston Logan airport, August 2019.

For most of them, it is their first time in the US. Our daughters, who are adopted from Lebanon, have grown up listening to the often sad and difficult stories these young people share with us, which have so little in common with our sheltered and safe lives in Boston, MA. Each and every one of them leaves an imprint on our hearts.Last year I was honored to be invited to join the Anera Board of Directors. Sitting among fellow board members at meetings, I am inspired by their commitment, empathy and determination to address the ever-growing needs of generations of Palestinian refugees. And I am reminded of the lessons my German mother taught her two daughters – always help those in need, make the world a better place and never turn a blind eye to injustice.

Anera Lebanon’s Maria and Piney at the October 7 backpack distribution.
Anera Lebanon’s Maria and Piney at the October 7 backpack distribution.
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