by Nate Scholz
As I was printing the photos I’d taken of the students, I saw Mervat coming toward me through the buzz of the students she’d gathered. “We’ve never done anything like this before,” she said. “We usually just ask them questions about their experiences. Visitors are coming to check it out because they’re interested to learn what’s going on.”
It was 10:00 AM on a Sunday morning. The Ezzeddine and Scholz families had already been preparing the riverside restaurant venue for an hour. Thirty students between the ages of 12 and 17 had just arrived on a bus, after being picked up from their homes. Mervat had personally selected each participant. Some were Syrian refugee kids, and the rest were underprivileged Lebanese.
Mervat is a Project Manager with SHEILD, a partner organization with the United Nations High Council for Refugees (UNHCR). Her normal job has her compiling demographic information for the UNHCR annual report on Lebanon from hundreds of interviews conducted every week by her team of 10. She arranged this project in her spare time. She was hosting it on her day off.
I’ve known the Ezzeddine family since I first moved to Lebanon in 1999. Mervat’s husband, Mohammed, gave me the Arabic name I would use over the 7 years I lived there: Hadi. We experienced milestone life events together, like my getting married and having kids. When my family was evacuated from Lebanon during the 33-Day War in 2006, Naomi was 2 years old, and Gideon was 1. Mervat’s son, Daoud, was 8. On this day in 2019, Naomi led the art project, and Daoud translated her directions. The second generations of these two family friends made us proud by demonstrating their leadership.
I could hear Naomi describing the steps of our plan for the morning as I sat by the portable printer that worked at printing the square, black and white portraits I had taken a few minutes earlier on my phone. That was the strangest part of the day, as the girls had been especially shy and giggly as I took their picture, one by one. The printouts were distributed after the students finished crafting their self-expressive poetry. They each chose two pastels and began to colorize their portraits. I watched Naomi circulate among the tables, charming the groups of girls clustered in fours. Their smiles connected them, despite the lack of common language. Gideon sat at the one table of guys, who laughed and joked with a couple of the adult helpers.
They tinted their photos, slid them into plastic sheet protectors, and wrote their poetry with black sharpies over the top. The project was finished in about an hour, and the kids left their work on the tables for me to photograph once again to prepare for uploading to Instagram (you can see them all by searching the hashtag #hellohowareyoufine).
For the next hour and a half, they played in the idyllic conifer garden next to the restaurant and shared a picnic meal of garlic marinated chicken sandwiches. Half-full plastic water bottles were pressed into service as soccer balls, and kicked between teams of girls on one side of the yard, and every boy for himself on the other side. The less energetic relaxed and sang Arabic folks songs while gazing over the panoramic view of the Litani River Valley. It was over all too soon, and the students migrated toward the bus that would take them home about the middle of the afternoon.
We may never know the impact of this Sunday morning outing in Lebanon. For sure, out of the million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, serving 30 kids seemed like a drop in the bucket of need. Did some of these students find space to reflect and get some emotional healing from the trauma in their refugee experiences? Did students from the Skagit Valley acquire greater empathy through their participation? Will this be an initial pilot program leading to a larger partnership for Voices of The Children in Lebanon?
For the Scholz family, the answers to these questions are still unclear. Was it worth the effort? I’ve learned to look for what is called a “15% solution,” from an activity found at liberatingstructures.com. It starts with a simple question: “What can you do today to help accomplish your big, hairy, audacious goal, that doesn’t require any more resources or authority than you currently have?” Just start by doing those seemingly small things and see where they lead. Sometimes the results will be more significant than expected.
After learning about what Voices of The Children has accomplished in the Za’tari Camp in Jordan, we felt inspired. We saw something that we could do about the global refugee crisis, and we did it. Recently, I heard a quote from John Maxwell: "The smallest action always surpasses the greatest intention." I’m a believer that if thousands of people will do what they can to show compassion, it will collectively change the world. I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute some joy, and to share the experience with my daughter and son. To be able to reunite with the Ezzeddines and work together was truly special and memorable.
Naomi Scholz is an artful American teenager who is passionate about multi-cultural people. She identifies herself as a xenophile. She also loves to write, so she will share her travel experience here with you.