It’s not easy to tell the story of a country which, since its declaration of independence in 1943, has experienced constant cyclical tensions and internal conflicts alternating with brief periods of peace and economic development.
Different religious groups have coexisted for centuries in Lebanon, with the State recognising as many as 18 different denominations between Arab Christians and Muslims and the Jewish community.
Recent history tells of a country which was shaken by a bloody civil war between 1975 and 1990, involving not only the Christian and Muslim communities but also foreign armies, including the Syrian, Israeli and American armies, along with Palestinian militant groups. Even today, as you wander through the busy streets of the capital Beirut, you can see damaged buildings or structures marked by mortar fire.
In the southern suburbs of Beirut, just a few blocks from the luxurious city centre, stands the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila, where Inter Campus works together with Anera (an international charity) to help 80 Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese children.
The Shatila camp was set up between 1948 and 1949 to accommodate Palestinian refugees fleeing their own land following the declaration of independence from the State of Israel. The Palestinians on the run left their own homes with the hope to return there soon, but that return was never possible and as a result, they’ve been stuck in a real ghetto in every sense of the word for more than 70 years. Labelling Shatila a refugee camp is misleading in itself: Shatila is a real neighbourhood, a forest of dangerously put together buildings that stretches for one square kilometre and today houses around 28,000 Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Shatila is a labyrinth of dark alleys hidden away from the sun, and raising your head to the sky will only reveal a dense webbing of electrical cables dangerously intertwined with water lines. There’s a real lack of primary services like drinking water distribution and a working sewage system, and walking through the alleys you’re hit by the smell of stagnant filth with no circulating air to get rid of the stench.
The recent pandemic is seeing a second wave in all of the Near and Middle East, the crisis irreparably pushing the country towards the abyss. This is reflected in the Lebanese pound, which from February to today has dropped 90% in value, causing a lethal increase in prices of all kinds of basic necessities. Along with this comes an almost total absence of electricity throughout the country and scarce fuel reserves.
In such a complex and unjust context, Inter Campus succeeds in guaranteeing a secure space to play freely for the children involved, providing a brief escape from the daily hardships and struggles and trying to map out a path for the better future that everyone deserves.