"The musty smell of the camp becomes overwhelming, the dirt seems never to disappear“ Photo: humedica/Ole Hengelbrock
The importance of torch-bearers against the loss of childlike innocence
A report by assistant coordinator Ole Hengelbrock
As an assistant coordinator, Ole Hengelbrock is involved in a humedica aid project in Lebanon where voluntary doctors give medical treatment to Syrian refugees. While the impression Ole got of social interaction in the centre of the camp was rather positive, some of the impressions he got in the background were rather disturbing.
“Seen from further away, my romantic impression of the camp’s social life is destroyed. The musty smell becomes overwhelming, the dirt seems never to disappear and the way people treat each other seems disturbing to me. Due to my educational profession and my travel experiences I am certainly aware of intercultural differences in education.
Yet one violent scene I witness does not fit in any of my frames of reference: An elderly man grabs a boy. He had probably got into mischief, for the old man scolds him loudly and pulls his ear very hard. Then he takes a cable and flogs him mercilessly. The scene turns even more inhumane when other children join them and, gloating over his pain, start tormenting the boy with blows and kicks as well.
Other, similar scenes occur before my face: An older boy runs through a group of younger children, randomly beating them with a rope. A toy is passed on by means of pushing, yelling and kicking. A dialogue ends in a brawl in which the weaker person is knocked down face first on the ground. Revenge follows immediately. The boy who had been beaten stands up again, takes a stone about the size of a fist, walks towards his enemy and is about to strike. Now I can no longer remain uninvolved.
When I take the stone out of the boy’s hand, I touch a trembling arm; this is a deadly serious moment. With my two hands I shape a heart. “Amore! Amore!” Curiously, the children gather around me. No hand is clenched to a fist anymore, no mouth distorted in rage and no thought wasted on violence. This moment is a homage to human interaction. A kodak moment, where loving each other is eternalised as the principle of life. Shortly thereafter, the children resume their usual activities.
As soon as the situation tends to escalate into a violent argument, my look eases the tension again. – “Amore!“, I can hear several voices echoe. What is there to add? I sit down on a stone and play with the remaining children. They watch all my actions and quickly learn English words and clapping games.
They adapt to the customs they live in. When stones are thrown, a child does not view the stone as a rough natural object but as a resource for enforcing their own will through violence. In a violent environment, children are socialised in a way that they resort to violence themselves. A spiral starts, in the course of which the children lose their innocence.
When the medics’ work is finished, I get into the car and look back on the camp. The children are standing on the road, their eyes wide open, calling “Good Bye”. Swirling dust is blurring the picture. I wave once again and realize: destructiveness multiplies.
The current life of these people is a borderline situation. They had to flee from their homes, they barely find work, do not go to school, they live closely together on little space, in a state of continuous uncertainty. All this provokes dissatisfaction, conflicts, even violence. And yet, if destructiveness can multiply into violence, love can multiply as well.
People who have to flee can build a new home again. In a bombed city, flowers can bloom again. Children who learn violence can learn love again.
The humedica project is not only about medical aid for Syrian refugees. It is also an expression of solidarity and empathy, a “duty of the heart”. Our stay in Lebanon is evidence of “being there” for people in need. Ultimately, following Theodor Adorno, our daily work is aiming at a new moral imperative: “To shape people’s thinking and acting in a way that Aleppo never be repeated.”
The night closes in. It has got windier. I look forward to the next working day and to seeing the children again. Someone once told me that gratitude should be emphasised with a quotation. Looking back and full of hope for the future I am very grateful that humedica mobilises all resources to spread as much love as possible, especially in the world’s crisis zones:
“The world has its kings, its statesmen, presidents and dictators, yet what it really lacks are princes, poets and inventors – torch-bearers who, without dramatizing, shine a bright light upon the children of mankind.” (Bernard Tirtiaux)
Please continue to support the humedica aid work for Syrian refugees with a donation. These people have had to face the war in their home country without any chance to prevent it. Only by fleeing and abandoning their former lives they have been able to protect their lives. Be a prince, a poet, an inventor, a torch-bearer – be a light of hope for about one million of externally displaced Syrian refugees (according to UN estimates).
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