'You are going to Lebanon'
I have heard this sentence twice in my life time. The feeling I had the second time was vastly different from the first time I heard it over ten years previously.
I had my head set on getting on a team going to Brazil in 2002. It was also a Tearfund Team being led by close friends of mine. I was 18 at the time and was going to be the second time I had ever been on a plane. During that summer lots of my friends where going on Spanish holidays to celebrate leaving school, but because I had repeated my lower sixth year, I still had another year to go and thought this chance to go to Brazil was too good to be true. However interest in the Brazil team was high, so initially I was rejected and told I was going to Lebanon instead. I am not going to lie. I was really disappointed. Lebanon? Really? It sounds no where near as good as Brazil. However, after someone dropped out I got my place on the trip and had an amazing experience in Brazil that has formulated a lot of how I am today. I still to this day carry the shame of my reaction about being offered the chance to serve in Lebanon, so it was to my excitement when that same sentence was told to me a few months back.
Last year I was in Uganda [you can see my blog post HERE] - on that trip one person I had away was Jasper Rutherford, who fronts up two christian summer festivals in Ireland, Summer Madness & Catalyst. I have known Jasper for years and it was great to take him to Africa for the first time. I have been to Africa now four times, twice to Uganda, once to Kenya and also to South Africa. I love that continent. Especially the countries I have visited. Whilst in Uganda Jasper & I shot films for a campaign we where going to run at the festivals. On the back of those campaigns, we raised lots of money for water and sanitation projects. The success of the campaign caught us all by surprise, and on the last day of the festival we hatched a follow up campaign about refugees. When I pitched the idea to Tearfund, they where really excited and immediately got the ball rolling for how this trip would work.
So within a few frantic months of planning we boarded I plane to Lebanon. We have two others with us. Nigel Gilbert is a local business man and is on the board of directors for the summer festivals fronted by Jasper. Huw Tyler is one my favourite member of staff at Tearfund and he was in Uganda, and creatively we work very well together. However last minute he had to drop out so I was able to ask someone else that I have been wanting to work with for a few years. Good friend Greg Fromholz, an American who has been living in Dublin for 20+ years. Greg was coming to help with the film making part of the trip. Greg is an author and music video director.
After some intense security training and a lot of reading about Lebanon and the current standing there politically and socially, we touched down in Beirut late on the Sunday evening to be met at the airport by the partner project Heart for Lebanon and Stella Chetham, who is Tearfunds new communication manager for the middle east.
Who got some rest in preparation for the morning.
Since 2011 nearly 1.2 Million Syrians have crossed the boarder into Lebanon to escape the conflict. I think its safe to say there are nearly the same amount again who have come in unofficially. 1.2 million is roughly the same amount of people in Northern Ireland [1.8million].
Monday morning rolls in and we head out of Beirut heading east into the Bekaa Valley. We arrived in a town called Zahlie where Heart for Lebanon have a warehouse. We met up with the staff and got a briefing about what we where going to do. We where heading into two different camps to do food distribution, we would also get the chance to interview some families.
I was involved in a food distribution whilst in Kenya. I was humbled that people would walk 10km to get the smallest amount food whilst they where going through a drought. So I thought I was prepared for what I was about to see.
This was different.
I couldn't put my finger on it.
It had something to do with the circumstance. I have been in some rough Favelas in Brazil or slums in Africa. But again this seemed different.
Everyday this week I will be blogging about my experience in Lebanon. By breaking it down into sections, hopefully I will be able to make sense of what I experienced, never mind convey to you.
Click HERE for Part Two