Friends of Beyond Series - Kate
When Suzann asked me to write this blog post for her, I thought she was crazy and asking the wrong person. I did not think I had anything of relevance or importance to say. I haven’t visited a Palestinian refugee camp, I haven’t even been to the Middle East. I’m not a board member of Beirut and Beyond and my knowledge of the Middle East is limited. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and live outside of the United States, but all of that was outside the Middle East. I felt completely unqualified to take about why Beirut and Beyond matters. However, the more I thought about it, I realized that I might my initial response to Suzann’s request was probably wrong. I realized that many people who will read this post are like me in the sense that they do not speak Arabic, may not have traveled in the Middle East, do not engage in volunteer work that supports the Palestinian population, and do not possess extensive knowledge about Middle Eastern culture and politics. So maybe I am the perfect type of person to address the importance of Beirut and Beyond.
Like many people, I’ve been aware of the conflicts between Israel and Palestine for much of my life, but I frequently saw it from an academic or political perspective. While I didn’t have steadfast opinions on the conflict, I saw it as an intellectual exercise more than I saw it as something that impacted millions of people on a daily basis. Then I met Suzann. Her love and passion for the Palestinian people helped me begin to bring faces, stories, and lives to something that had been mostly an intellectual exercise.
Through the work of Beirut and Beyond, I began to learn about the millions of families who have lived in refugee camps for decades upon decades upon decades. I learned of the limited opportunities afforded to this substantial population. I learned about the challenging situations so many people experience in camps. While I’ve learned about the hardships Palestinian refugees experience daily, I’ve also heard many stories of kindness, generosity, and community. I’ve heard stories of brilliant and resourceful people working hard to make opportunities in a place where few opportunities exist. I’ve learned about families who joyfully open their homes to guests even if their resources are limited. Basically, I’ve learned about beautiful and complex lives.
Beirut and Beyond’s commitment to sharing stories and providing education to people who may never set foot in the Middle East, let alone a refugee camp, is something that I value significantly about the organization. We live in a society where it is so easy to be detached from people who are different from ourselves. This detachment makes it easy to forget that many of the situations that we see from an intellectual, philosophical, or political perspective have real and tangible impacts on millions of lives. Seeing the faces of the children, women, and men who live in the refugee camps and beginning to learn their stories brings life, compassion, and a sense of urgency to a situation that can easily be seen as a remote news story that only needs to be considered when it is convenient. I love the humanity that these stories bring. This is one of the reasons I why I think Beirut and Beyond matters and why I choose to support the organization.
While there are many additional reasons why I choose to support Beirut and Beyond and its mission, the only other thing I will address here is how the partnerships that Beirut and Beyond has built over years has enabled the organization to develop programs and goals that are truly wanted by the people living in the refugee camps. A great example of this is the library at the Hopes for Women Center in Gaza Palestinian camp. The library initiative is not just something that Beirut and Beyond saw as a need in the camp – rather, it began from a desire that was articulated by the women living in the camp and it is associated with an organization, Hopes for Women, that has a long history of working with the camp. By giving deference to the opinions of Palestinian women and listening to what they truly want and need, Beirut and Beyond is able to take part in the development of something that has the potential to truly benefit many women who previously may not have had access to this level of educational materials. Beirut and Beyond’s desire to earnestly listen to the needs and desires of the women living in the Gaza Palestinian Refugee Camp shows the people involved with the organization know there is so much to be learned from these women. Listening to the needs and opinions of the women living in the camp is another way that Beirut and Beyond honors the individuality and humanity possessed by the people who live there.
These are just some of the reasons I value and support Beirut and Beyond. I could go on for pages and pages about the work the organization is doing, the life stories from the camps that Suzann so reverently stewards and shares with anyone who is willing to listen, Suzann’s commitment to the Palestinian people, and the work that Beirut and Beyond does to meet specific needs and help foster hope in the camps. But I’ll end with this. Beirut and Beyond is doing amazing things and it is led by a woman with compassion, drive, and perseverance like few I have ever met. Please consider supporting the organization on a monthly basis. If that is not feasible, perhaps a one-time year end donation is something you can manage. While she won’t like me saying it, I regularly see firsthand the hard work and sacrifices Suzann continues to make year after year so that she can serve and advocate for the needs of a community so many have forgotten. Her commitment to Palestinian refugees and their story has not just taught me how to start thinking differently about them, as people with rich stories that include joys and heartaches and not just a news story that is taking place an ocean away. I hope that the stories of her work do the same for you, and that you are encouraged to join me in the support of this uncommon good work.
Kate Phillips grew up in Ohio, and spent extensive time in Belgium, France, and Gabon. A science geek at heart, she now practices law in Denver.