Time passed like an arrow in Lebanon. In the half year since I arrived, I have experienced and learned things that I will never forget, and which I will benefit from for a lifetime. Many beautiful moments will come to my mind when I recall my time in Lebanon, and among them, working with ULYP is one of the best.
As a graduate student of Middle Eastern Studies, I have studied a lot about the history, politics and society of the region, but never have I learned so much about the Middle East than since I arrived in Beirut in June 2013. The war in Syria has intensified the sectarian conflicts in Lebanon; walking on the street in Hamra, one can see handicapped Syrian children and women everywhere. Though I was amazed by Lebanon’s gorgeous landscapes, fascinated by the mountains and coastlines, wandering through the neighborhoods in Beirut also brought me sorrow and regret. Beirut is a small city, but the huge disparity between the rich and the poor areas here has struck me. The contrast between the refugee camps and the commercial center manifests some heartbreaking realities in this country. They make me sad.
And then I met ULYP. I still remember the first time I stepped into the office in the summer. It is a small place, but cozy and friendly. I was invited to lunch in their conference room, where I met the founder, Madame Melek, the director, Nicole, and all the other friends that I would be working with. That was the beginning of my time with ULYP, a great moment when everyone in the organization sat together around the table, like a big family.
I was introduced to ULYP’s different programs and went to the campus in Dibbiyeh where they are held. Working with the Lebanese and refugee youth was the greatest time I had with ULYP: teaching English to Syrian women in the MOMs program, playing and drawing pictures with Palestinian children in SAWA, talking to students with my broken Arabic and listening to their worries and ambitions… They told me about their dreams to study at universities abroad, and their hope to change the future of their communities and of Lebanon. I was deeply touched by the aspirations of these young souls, encouraged by their bravery to overcome hardship and to meet the challenges of life. I feel that I am learning from them; their language, their society, but moreover, their spirit to fight for their dreams.
I never expected that I could learn so much from ULYP and the young people it works with. I was surprised to see that some refugees of my age are mothers of several children, and that they have to take on the responsibilities not only of their own lives, but also of their family and children. There are other small moments of joy with ULYP that I will recall: when we looked at the smiling faces of the adorable children in the HAPPY program; when the SAT scores of the Bridge Program showed the improvement the students had made; when we planned projects, bringing together creative ideas…. All of these will always stay in my mind, together with the encouragement I’ve received, and the lessons I’ve learned from ULYP.