1. Tell us about yourself
My name is Pierre Schelameur, I am 23 years old. I am French-American. I grew up in Paris and moved to the US for my Bachelor’s degree. I studied International Development at American University in Washington DC. I have been working with SB for more than 5 months now.
2. How did you get involved with SB?
I moved back to Paris after my Bachelor’s degree and was looking for a job in the NGO world. It wasn’t easy. I’ve had a few small experiences abroad with a French NGO working in West Africa but it was hard to find something that really suited me. I have yet to find a specialisation that could be relevant to impactful NGO work. I only knew I liked working with children. I was really lucky to find SB and immediately applied for the longest period possible: 8 months. It was a great decision.
3. What is your favourite memory with SB?
It’s hard to choose a single one. Working with the staff at SB has been truly special. The entire staff here is inspiring. They are caring, passionate, welcoming, funny, curious, and so much more. It’s important to put things in perspective. The staff here in Lebanon is mostly composed refugees who see many volunteers come and go. You’d think they would get tired of us and lose genuine interest in us; us volunteers who can’t always commit long term to this refugee cause. But they don’t. They always try to get to know volunteers and engage with them.
One of my favorite memories was a barbecue organized in August. It was a beautiful day during which we all played games, ate delicious food, and laughed a lot. I think it’s safe to say that everyone had a lot of fun that day. It’s been a privilege to work with such great people.
4. What do you find challenging?
Teaching has been challenging for me. You get to know these incredible children who are keen to learn and are interested in you. You start to understand their routines and situations and you understand how crucial SB’s work is. Not only is SB providing a pathway to education for children who are innocent victims of conflict, but the SB centers are also safe spaces for these children where they can socialize and just be kids. In this way, SB provides a crucial aspect of childhood. This entire context can be pressurising for the volunteers as most volunteers are not professional teachers so it isn’t always easy to teach, especially considering the language barrier. But teaching and seeing a child progress and gaining confidence is extremely gratifying.
5. Advice for a future volunteer?
The most important advice I can give is to commit longterm. Things are not always easy here but the relationships you build with the children and staff are unique. Give yourself a chance to build and enjoy these relationships as much as possible.
I don’t think volunteers should come here and expect to change the lives of refugees in general. You can’t change a complex situation in 2 months. You can however invest yourself in different projects and participate and diversify the ways in which SB OverSeas works and in this way benefit the lives of some refugees. Staying long term also makes this more feasible.
6. Did it change your life in any way?
This is going to sound cliché but I did learn a lot about myself. This experience made me grow as a person and changed me. I did definitely learn about how I handle pressure, what I want to do later, how I can/should communicate with different types of people.
7. What was the most important lesson you learned?
This whole experience has taught me different things but one of the most important things is that formal education is rarely the most beneficial thing for a child, especially in this kind of context. This may sound pretty obvious but teaching here and seeing forefront the impact of different teaching methods makes you realize how rigid and sometimes obtuse formal education can be.
The children we work with are often victims of abuse and neglect. They look for positive adult figures. Building relationships with the children, showing some flexibility in your approach to education, and more generally finding ways to let the children be themselves is much more important than discipline and raw academic results. I have been very impressed by some of SB’s pedagogical methods and non-formal education classes. I will definitely benefit from this experience and take some of this with me for future experiences.
8. Anything else you want to share?
If you are serious, adaptable, and passionate about supporting refugees then I highly recommend volunteering with SB OverSeas. SB is a community based NGO that will show you and teach you many different crucial aspects of direct NGO field action. It is a challenging yet rewarding life experience that everyone should try doing.