Project for the renovation of a building in the refugee camp of 'Ein el-Hilweh, Lebanon


The project presented hereunder is promoted jointly by two associations: ours, that is the Italian-based Sumud – Volontariato e Resistenza (Voluntary Work and Resistance), and the Lebanese-Palestinian Nashet – Activist.

The name Sumud is an Arabic word for steadfastness, and recalls the meaning of resistance and attachment to one’s roots. The aim of the association is to propose an experience of voluntary work and international solidarity oriented towards a strong and consequent anti-colonialist outlook. This also means psychological liberation from Western missionarism, which, unfortunately, is often found together with even our most genuine fits of altruism. Indeed, one of our slogans is “we don’t have anything to teach them”. This means that, while we don’t necessarily have to subscribe to the aspirations and the outlooks on the world through which the peoples victim of neocolonialism express their determination to emancipate themselves, we recognize the latter as being worthy of our unconditioned respect and support, both symbolic and substantial. Indeed, in our opinion, we owe them this support, as they experience the harshest side of the same global system which everyday causes greater injustices even here in the West, and are at the same time the main force opposing it.  In this frameset, for political, symbolic, and human reasons, we have particularly at heart the cause of the Palestinian people.

Nashet, our partner in Lebanon, is a mixed association, composed of youth both Palestinian and Lebanese. Its aim is to promote the Palestinian cause, first of all on a human level: in the first place, by promoting cooperation between young Palestinians of different political and religious backgrounds, in order to counter the risk of sectarianism and strengthen their confidence in themselves and their people’s cause; and also by creating links of cooperation with other communities: obviously, the Lebanese one (in order to fight the anti-Palestinian prejudice on the Lebanese side, and the “ghetto mentality” on the Palestinian side), but also with young Westerners and Europeans, in order to create a solidarity network which can be a precious experience for the persons involved and also help promote the Palestinian cause among the Western public opinion.

The ‘Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp

Approximately 400.000 Palestinian refugees, registered as such by the international agencies, live in Lebanon. The real number is actually much higher. Many of them live in the twelve official refugee camps, and many others in the poor surrounding areas. They suffer conditions which are even worse than those suffered by the Palestinian refugees in other countries, due to the fact that many of them live under the poverty threshold, and to the limitations to their rights imposed to them by the Lebanese authorities (who have always considered them as a factor of destabilization): for example, many occupations are forbidden to them, and they are not authorized to own property. Those who live in the refugee camps must face severe housing and security problems. Moreover, the education of young Palestinians is becoming more of a problem by the day, especially since the interventions of UNRWA (the UN agency for Palestinian refugees) have become less and less effective due to the funding shortfalls which followed the Oslo accords. Less and less teachers are hired, the infrastructure is no longer being maintained, and university scholarships are no longer provided. The number of students enrolled decreases by the day. In these conditions, attending university can but remain a mirage for most Palestinian young people.

“Our” refugee camp, ‘Ein el-Hilweh, is located on the outskirts of the town of Saida, and is the largest camp in Lebanon, by both population and area. About 45.000 registered refugees live in the camp, but according to the Popular Committee (the camp’s self-ruling body) the actual inhabitants are something like 75.000.

The Lebanese authorities force an economical, social and political blockade on the camp, and a policy of depopulation (discouraging births, encouraging emigration). Its inhabitants, along with this half-segregation, also have to face the conflicts which sometimes rise between the various political and religious groups of the camp.

Our friends from Nashet tell us that the youth of the camp feel isolated, criminalized, prohibited from deciding about their future, and discouraged: their hope in a fair solution to the refugee question (the right of return) is becoming weaker and weaker.

The project

The concrete project agreed between Sumud and Nashet concerns the creation of a centre which will also be called “Sumud” and will be a joint seat and a material base for the cooperation between the two associations. The main activity carried on by the centre will be aimed at countering school dropout and its effects. Recovery classes will be held for the reinsertion of younger students in the educational system, and professionalizing courses will be held for older students, in order for them to acquire capabilities that can help them to choose their own future and to participate in their family’s and their people’s choice. In addition, the centre will host the volunteers who visit the camp in the future to take part in carrying on the project.

Moreover, the experience of voluntary work in a relationship of direct cooperation with the local youth also aims at promoting cultural exchange between Palestinian and European young people, and helping the latter to achieve a better understanding of the Palestinian question. We also hope to create human and political solidarity, a cooperating and sharing spirit, and bonds of friendship among the volunteers from different countries and backgrounds.

1.  The first stage of the project, which will be accomplished by the first work brigade scheduled for August of this year, concerns the renovation of the building which has been chosen to house the above-mentioned centre. It is a former seat of the PFLP, bombed by the Zionist army, and located near one of the main entrances of the camp. Its conditions require it to undergo quite a substantial work before it is safe again, and fit to host the due activities.

So, we will need to rebuild the roof in the first place, for an estimated cost of 4.000 $; then the walls need to be renovated (2.000 $), as does the floor (1.000 $); new doors and windows must be installed (1.000 $) and the walls must be painted (1.000 $).

2. The second stage of the project is scheduled for September 2009: the centre will have to be equipped with everything necessary to carry on the due activities. In particular it will be necessary to supply the building with:

- a teaching classroom, furnished with desks, chairs, a teacher’s desk and a blackboard (needed amount of money: around 3.000 $);

- a library furnished with tables, chairs, bookshelves, books, 5 computers and a printer (around 7.000 $);

- an administrative room furnished with 2 desks and chairs, 2 closets, 2 computers and a printer (3.000 $);

- a room for the various activities, furnished with 5 desks, chairs, and the needed tools (2.000 $).

3. The third stage of the project (scheduled from October 2009 on) concerns the actual classes.

Each course will last 9 months and will be attended by a maximum of 40 people; there will be basic classes (for 11-14 years old students) and intermediate ones (for 15-18 year old students), as well as professionalizing courses (for students aged 15-18). Creative workshops will also be held.

The classes will be held by local qualified teachers, with the help of competent volunteers from Europe, which will hold seminaries on specific topics. Concerning the language, the classes held by local teachers will be in Arabic, while the seminaries held by Europeans will generally be in English. English is often used locally as a language for secondary education, but English language classes will also be held for the students who may need them.

During the summer the centre will host several social and cultural activities, including Arabic language classes for European volunteers; English language and computer science classes open to the adult population of the camp; seminaries and conferences with the cooperation of the local organizations of the civil society.

We also plan to realize a multi-media website (in Arabic, English and Italian language) in order to promote the activities of the center and the spirit of the project, and to share the obtained results -  in order not only to attract volunteers from the West who can help us to extend this experience, but also to serve as a positive example to be implemented in similar situations.

To realize all of the above, it will be necessary to purchase educational material of different kinds (books, stationery material, teaching material) for an approximate amount of 2.000 $ a year.

It will also be necessary to remunerate the local teaching staff (7.000 $ / year) and other personnel (3.000 $ / year), and to offer a partial reimbursement of expenses to the European voluntary teachers (3.000 $ / year).