by Dalia Chaif
I often reflect on my resistance and parents’ persistence to connect us to our heritage, as I now realize they know it is best for us. My parents knew the endless opportunities that come from respecting cultures and being able to communicate in multiple languages.
For example, my family built a school in Lebanon called “Safe Spaces Lebanon” for Syrian and refugees who are unable to receive an education. They were able to do this with the support of Methodist ministers and local non-government organizations. My brother and I worked at the school and with the children this past summer. It gave us an entirely new perspective on our own lives and how much our parents have sacrificed to get us to where we are today. These children showed us what true resilience means.
We go back and visit and have created a special bond of language and learning. One of the children who exemplifies that bond is a 15-year-old boy named Mouwaffak. When he first came to Safe Spaces Lebanon, he did not read or write and showed aggressive behavior. Now, the teachers say he is one of the brightest students in his class, always problem-solving and following instructions. The last time we spoke, he said in Arabic, “I did not realize how important it was to learn English, because I felt that it was unnecessary. Then I started attending Safe Spaces, and I understood how vital it was. It gives me access to learn about science, math, and numbers, preparing me for international business in the future.” Learning a language bridges the gap in both directions, and can create opportunities for anyone: a high school student preparing for college, or a young Syrian refugee chasing the dream of an unthreatened life.
Therefore, with the most appreciation, gratitude, and sincerity, I say,
“Shukran mama wa baba. Shukran jazeelan.”
(Thank you, mom and dad. Thank you so much.)
by Mona Charif
My family and I spent our Christmas vacation in Lebanon. On Christmas day, it was cold and rainy, but we still wanted the kids to have a good day. We took the Safe Spaces students to an indoor sports pavilion that Ghaleb booked for them. There, we played soccer, basketball, volleyball, and many other games while also singing and dancing, and having lunch. Jad, my son, showed them for the first time how to throw and catch a baseball with a mitt. My daughter Dalia put together two soccer teams, boys against girls, to show the girls that they could win against the boys and play themselves. I had a great one on one conversation with Mouaffak; we talked about his plan to work hard, and he showed me what he learned. He counted for me in English and recited the English alphabet. We all ate manakish and drank juice while listening to music and enjoying each other’s company.
Two days later, we went down to the school and delivered the laptops we brought with us from the US. It was a great opportunity that Ghaleb put together with cake and celebration to announce the opening our new computer lab.
We showed the students how to type and play learning games that Rana had installed onto the laptops. The kids were drawn to this experience and enjoyed it very much. After two weeks, we are seeing great improvement in the kids desire to come to school and work on the computers. It was a great experience that helped us bond even greater with my family and these students. After they recognized my family and wanted to spend time with them, it made me see that we are all becoming one united family.
We will upload photos, videos, success stories to the website as we update the website. Shaun has been a great help in this regard. I’m working closely with him to ensure the appropriateness and accuracy of the material we’re posting.