Beitouna in Beirut: the ‘house’ of Solidarity

Every summer, Theresa, a Franciscan sister, Sako, a grocer, and the volunteers of the Beitouna Association organize a family holiday.

Beirut, the summer of 2011. On this 18th of July, a dozen families are in a state of excitement.  They are going to leave the city and head for the mountains and the clean air for a holiday with their families.  Sister Theresa explains: “’A holiday with their families means everyone – parents, teenagers, young children and babies, both the able-bodied and the disabled; it also means both families who have been able to ‘make it’ financially as well as others who live in conditions of extreme poverty.”

In Lebanon, a person’s religion is cited on their national identity card, but for Sister Theresa, religion is not an issue. Both Christians and Muslims are invited to climb on the bus for the mountains.  After two hours in the flood of cars leaving the capital, they arrive at the camp with its large tents in the middle of a stand of oak trees.

For two weeks, parents and children are going to have a good holiday, finding their place in the group without forgetting any of the others.  No one contests the modest conditions that are offered.  Each one participates in making the stay a pleasant one.  There is always someone to go fetch water, to help with the cooking, to support a mother who feels particularly vulnerable because of a problem she faces.
The children and the teen-agers have time together, sometimes far from the forest, under the leadership of counsellors.  What excitement when they return to tell their parents about the games they played, the discoveries they made, the epic matches of football and basketball they enjoyed!

The success of the “Olympic Games” is due to the spirit of the camp.  It is not a contest to show off those who run the fastest, or jump the highest.  It is a fun day where everyone can go further, together.  Each one has his or her strength, to put at the service of the others.  The camp also allows the parents to decompress, to forget the daily problems they face back in Beirut.  Worries and feelings are shared, as well
as a lot of laughter.

When people have spent two weeks together in this good atmosphere, they have built strong relationships, which help to maintain the solidarity in the neighbourhood to which they must return.  Whether their housing is permanent or in a tent, during the camp holidays as well as throughout the year, the families from Nabaa (a neighbourhood of Beirut) appreciate Beitouna, a word which in Arabic means “our house.”

Beitouna is more than a building.  It is the House of Solidarity.