Published: October 26th 2011October 26th 2011
This morning we visited our fourth Refugee Camp. We were told today that all these camps were constructed on land one kilometer by one kilometer. Originally established in 1948 the intention was that they would be there for three years and house between six and eight thousand people.
Even now the UN mandate must be renewed every three years. The UN pays for 100 administration staff and at every renewal the budget is reduced. The balance of the budget comes from voluntary contributions from the members. I have been told that last year Canada declined to contribute.
The big local concern about these camps is that those who had the talent ,wherewithal or ambition to leave have already done so. The rest have given up hope of a legitimate life and are increasingly turning to crime. The army is not allowed to enter the Camps so criminals cannot be brought to Justice unless surrendered by the Camp leaders. The risk is that this becomes a fertile ground for extremists.
Bourj Barajneh is located within the Beirut city limits. It holds 45 000 people. The density is indescribable. The passageways through the camp are about 1 meter
wide. Without construction codes buildings are piled on top of one another. Although it is forbidden to bring in building materials, there is construction everywhere. Makeshift electrical cables run pel mel from house to house. There are no telephone wires but lots of folks have cell phones.
At Bourj Barajneh we were led through the maze till we arrived at a kindergarten. The building was on three floors and fifteen minutes after we arrived the power failed. No one but us took any notice.
The ground floor is damp dark and dingy. In a room 3 meters by 4 meters about 25 three year olds come to kindergarten five mornings per week. Perhaps it was the light but they seemed wan and listless. When the teacher began to lead the group their spirits picked up considerably. I guess given the conditions I shouldn't have been surprised at their low energy level. I leapt at an invitation to move to the third floor to watch the five year olds. It was distressing to see those sad little faces.
On the roof things were much better. Perhaps it was the natural light. More likely it is because these
are the three year RTP veterans and they look forward to
these sessions as a welcome break. The game this morning focused on social skills. Kids took turns "visiting" and welcoming each other to their homes represented by plastic circles on the floor.
On the way out someone pointed out that there were blue arrows on the walls which guided one out. Apparently even the locals can get lost in there.
Our next stop was an extraordinary contrast. Led by a wealthy family in the region , local businesses funded a school for Lebanese handicapped children. The building was beautiful and spread over five floors. Ten students in clean modern classrooms were given strategies to overcome visual and hearing impairments, as well as other disabilities.
I asked one student who was visually handicapped what he planned to do when he grew up. He beamed and said he wanted to be a truck driver. Based on what I have seen of drivers in Beirut, he could be one of their best.
Tonight we cross into Israel. Or depending on who you are, into Palestine.
There are more photos below