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Humanitarianism & Community: reflections from a Spiritual Solidarity training

Atualizado: 9 de Set de 2018


In the spirit of solidarity, around twelve volunteers from different parts of the world travelled to Bqarzla, a remote village near the Lebanese city Halba, in the province of Akkar, to participate in the 2018 Akkar Summer Camp. The Summer Camp, organised by Relief & Reconciliation for Syria (R&R), brings joy and hope for peace to Syrian children, women and men who sought refuge in Akkar, a mountainous region in North Lebanon.


Before visiting R&R Peace Centre, I was delighted to hear the organisation ethos is build upon the concept of “Spiritual Solidarity”, which resonates with my worldview and engagement. In Solidarity: A Spirituality for Our Time: A Feminist Theological Reflection, Maria Riley writes about the theme as “A spirituality of solidarity grounds us in the sense of relationship, mutuality and wholeness-- with God, with each other and with the earth--that is equal to the globalization of the world that characterizes our era.”


In times of hostility and violence against people on the move seeking refuge and new beginnings, grounding political and social responses in the sense of relationships, mutuality and wholeness, has never been more important.


The possibility of envisioning and developing projects in the ethos of Spiritual Solidarity has prompted me to visit the Peace Centre and R&R Summer Camp.



“A spirituality of solidarity grounds us in the sense of relationship, mutuality and wholeness-- with God, with each other and with the earth--that is equal to the globalization of the world that characterizes our era.” Maria Riley


Visit to Michmich village, in Akkar, Lebanon


Akkar Summer Camp: Spiritual Solidarity in Action

I joined the Summer Camp group in the Peace Centre on the second week of intense studies, group discussions and field visits. Despite being there for only three days, the experience was enriching.


R&R Peace Centre in Bqarzla is surrounded by olive trees, green hills and stillness. The bucolic environment and the vastness of the place inspire connection with our inner and outer nature. I believe such connection with a deeper place within us is extremely important when participating in responses to humanitarian crisis. Otherwise, given the hardships faced by refugee communities and humanitarian workers, we might fall in places of despair and distress, instead of solidarity and compassion.



Olive trees, view from the R&R Peace Centre´s rooftop.


The lectures were equally inspiring, raising relevant questions around ethics and how we can boost our ethics in humanitarian responses, the role of women and gender issues, and challenges related to providing quality education for forcibly displaced youth.


From the lectures, the theme of relational ethics, elaborated by the Scottish professor George Wilkes, stayed with me. He spoke about approaching relationships with care and importance, as opposed to utilitarian and reductionist views in which subjects might turn into objects exposed to power dynamics and exploitation. Approaching relationships with care and importance implies seeing the humanity present in the other. When two people come together recognising their shared humanity, a real meeting between human beings takes place.


His words made me wonder how different political and social responses to the refugee crisis would be if they were grounded in the understanding of shared humanity, complementing the sense of relationships, mutuality and wholeness offered by Spiritual Solidarity.



Field visit: when hope fades away



Conversation at the camp.

On my last day in Akkar, we visit a refugee camp in the outskirts of Halba. As we arrive in the camp, we see tents wrapped with UNHCR plastic covering. Around 150 people live in those tents. The camp was erected four years ago in what was then an olive farm. The trees were cut off and replaced by the informal settlement which became home to many.


The residents receive us in the education centre, where children and youth have classes. Our conversation with the camp´s manager, Abo Hussein, aimed at raising awareness about the living conditions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, their challenges and hopes.

The living conditions of Syrians in Lebanon are grim and poor. There is not enough money and resources to meet the most basic human needs. Lack of work permits and restriction of movement contribute to the scarcity of options, leading people to a state of hopelessness.


As the manager, Abo Hussein is not only responsible for the physical structure and needs of the camp, but, to a certain extent, for the wellbeing of people as well. Many residents bring their problems, concerns, innermost thoughts and fears to him.

Building trust among Syrians and other communities is another concern and one of the main challenges preventing social cohesion. Abo Hussein mentions how the war has changed Syrians´ behaviour, destroying the sense of trust in relationships. He says since there´s no safety, he cannot trust in anyone.



Reclaiming Hope

When we left the camp, I said goodbye to my colleagues, who continued their journey back to the Peace Centre in Bqarzla while I returned to Beirut.


The experience in the camp and Abo Hussein´s sharing made an impression on me. It´s painful to hear the stories of people seeking protection, people who have lost their lives and identities, their physical belongings and sense of belonging to a community, people who struggle to find a new home.


The needs are endless and our capacities to embrace the needs are limited. Reconciling the demands and limitations to meet those demands is a practice I´m learning to incorporate in my work. Yet, every response, project and initiative grounded in the understanding of shared humanity, like R&R Peace Centre develops in North Lebanon, is a step towards healing and community building.


I´m grateful for having met a group of dedicated and inspiring volunteers, who, in the spirit of solidarity, joined locals and displaced communities to weave together a story of peace and reconciliation at the core of conflict.


"Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for. Active Hope is a practice."

Macy, Joanna. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're in without Going Crazy (p. 3).



This text was first posted at Relief and Reconciliation for Syria: https://r2volunteers.wordpress.com/2018/08/25/humanitarianism-community-reflections-from-a-spiritual-solidarity-training/

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