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Date : 24th July, 2018
You know what ‘strawberry’ is don’t you? It’s a sweet fruit, often eaten with cream. Particularly at places like Wimbledon.
It’s also the street name for the combination of chopped up sweets and heroin used in the toughest parts of Beirut to get kids hooked on drugs.
Slap bang in the middle of one those toughest parts, just west of the tragically famous Shatila refugee camp, are the Tahaddi Education and Medical Centres. As Catherine, Tahaddi’s co-founder explains in the following video, their aim is to be right in the centre of the (tremendously disadvantaged) community they serve.
And what was I doing there? Two days earlier, Tahaddi Lebanon and Run the World had teamed up for the run in Beirut – Tahaddi with the aim of raising money for their emergency cancer fund. Ghia from Tahaddi then invited me to come and see their work and give a couple of Run the World / healthy living talks.
We started in the Tahaddi Education centre which provides non-formal education. It has a warm friendly atmosphere and lots of happy-looking kids. In fact, it felt much like the junior schools I visit around the world. They even have a long waiting list – like many a good school.
However, I think it’s fair to say that their selection criteria are a little different from many of those schools. To start with you need to be someone who won’t – without help – make it in the Lebanese public school system. Like a Syrian refugee, or a member of the Dom ethnic minority (historically connected to the European Roma community). Your personal and domestic situation will then be considered. If you have a disability or are perhaps suffering from trauma, if your parents are not around or are in jail, if there is a history of domestic abuse, your admission will be prioritised. Only the most needy get in. Which is to say that plenty of very needy don’t get in.
After seeing round the Education Centre, we went to the Medical Centre where I met the doctor in charge. We discussed whether or not the healthy living advice in my talks was relevant for the local audience (it was) and the difficulties of dealing with addictions in such a harsh living environment. He then arranged for me to meet a cancer sufferer.
She had throat cancer but couldn’t afford any further treatment. She also had a big lump on her arm and a distended stomach, and was very weak. Her weakness was a problem as her son was in jail and her daughter-in-law had just returned to her family, leaving her one-year-old daughter behind.
She couldn’t lift her granddaughter so her 10-year-old daughter, who normally attends the Tahaddi Education Centre, had to stay at home to look after the granddaughter. In a ‘house’ with no bathroom or running water.
When drafting this blog I wasn’t quite sure what to write next. Perhaps it’s best to just let the story speak for itself.
I conveyed, as best I could through a translator, my sympathy and went outside with Catherine who wanted to show me a little of what street life is like for the local kids. The following video, with Catherine’s voice over, will, I hope, give you some sense of what they face.
At the end of the visit I gave two talks – one to some of the adults associated with the Centres
and one to a number of the students, including the 34 I’d run with two days previously. Here are the kids shortly after I finished talking. Either they really enjoyed what I had to say – or they were very pleased I’d finally finished. That much exuberance is worth watching in any event!
Thank you Ghia, Catherine and everyone at Tahaddi for the visit and the hospitality. It was an experience I shall never forget.
If you would like to donate to the Tahaddi cancer fund, then here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/tahaddilebanon/ Your support will allow the Tahaddi Health Center to attend to more cancer patients who are not able to receive needed treatment because of prohibitive medical costs.
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