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Meet Me in the Middle (East)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Arriving at the Shabab Center

We had left Beirut at 11:00 a.m. after waiting for petrol (the stations open at 10). After the intense drive down from Beirut to Nabetieh, I could hardly contain myself as we pulled up to the youth center where I have spent the last six months helping create the Shabab Center.

It is 1:30 p.m. and the building was abuzz with activity.
Mercy Corps has taken over one whole section as the coordination office for their relief operations in southern Lebanon. The main entrance was crowded with families and women coming to collect food and supplies as children and staff wandered in all directions.

The center itself has quite a presence. It is a huge building of white stone, two parking lots and a basketball court out front. Built on a hill, the entire upper level houses a massive open-floor theater with stage, plus a sitting room and one large office used by
MP Yassine Jaber when he is in town as well as by the director and others for meetings. The main floor of the building has three entrances and contains a library with six computers, the director’s office, Maria’s office, half a dozen classrooms, a new computer lab and a large open room (formerly for sports and folklore classes, now filled with tables piled high with biscuits, tuna, condensed milk and the like). Boxes are everywhere.

I probably know 2/3 of the people I see and only a few people knew I was coming so I cause a bit of a stir, lots of hugging and “I’m so glad you are safe” and me explaining how I would scan the pictures in the news looking, and hoping not to see, any of them.

The good spirits and energy of the center are impressive, the relief efforts have been in full swing since the moment the ceasefire (a-hem, ‘cessation of hostilities’) kicked in and they are in the thick of it, coordinating and distributing aid as well as preparing to resume regular activities at the center this coming week.

Maria is racing from meeting to meeting as her phone rings constantly and she greets me with wide open arms “Baby! It is so good to have you back! Can you believe the center?” she says. It is crazy, so much activity, everyone is working long days and late nights, some of the distribution crews got back at 1:00 a.m. she tells me, but mostly people are happy to be back in Nabatieh.

There is so much work to be done -- here it is not a question of right or wrong or who is to blame or who won the war -- it is time to salvage what can be saved, help those in need and do what needs to be done so everyone can return to their lives. There are discussions, snippets, comments here and there, but the focus is on rebuilding, helping and easing the suffering.


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