‘Bukra Ahla’ 

‘بكرا احلى’

‘Tomorrow will be better’

To tell a story of volunteering with SB is not to tell a story about yourself. It is to tell a story of the Bukra Ahla centre and the bright lives that live and work there. It is a story of the community that for 2, 4 or 6 months willingly opens its arms to volunteers from around the world and welcomes them into their makeshift family. A centre built to educate Syrian refugees living in the Shatila camp in Beirut, the entire place is a reminder that, though often painful, there is hope to be found in any situation, and the future can always be bright. It is a guiding lighthouse in a night of darkness, leading those willing to follow to happiness and peace. So, come with me spend a day in Bukra Ahla and witness the light for yourself. Though it is a community created from pain and dislocation, it stands to prove that even in the saddest circumstances, happiness and family can thrive. It stands as a reminder to the staff and children alike:

‘Tomorrow will be better’

Come with me and begin the day by seeing seven year old Abdul Rahman for his extra class.

Outside on the patio climbing up the walls, screaming ‘teacher Imma monkey, imma monkey!’ The cheekiest face I have ever seen constantly high fiving me with his head. High fives in Bukra Ahla serve as a unique currency, how many can you get in a day? And Abdul Rahman has developed his own unique style. Where the other children are content with a classic hand on hand slap, he has taken it one step further and instead jumps up and hits his face into your hand. This buoyant action captures the vibrancy at his core. Grinning from ear to ear Abd’s laughter is infectious, spreading his joy all around the centre. Indeed, this cheeky monkey who simply refuses to be glum is a daily reminder:

‘Tomorrow will be better’

Next, spend your lunch break chatting with the two teacher Ahmed’s, both of whom I have yet to see without a smile on their face. Whatever else is going on in their lives they will always greet you with a hug and genuine concern for your wellbeing. Two guardians of safety at overseas, the organisation is truly built upon the shoulders of the kindness of people like them. For the kids they are a beacon of inspiration and for the staff they are a blanket of comfort. They provide the kids with the most important thing they can: role models. And if later in life the children achieve even half of the happiness Ahmed’s have created, they will have succeeded thoroughly. Their presence is a reminder:

‘Tomorrow will be better’

Continue the day by visiting little Abdullah in class 2G. I have never met a child (or person) in my life so eager and excited to learn. Or really just be at school. He puts his hand up every time before I even finish the question, regardless of if he knows the answer. Bouncing up and down in his seat so desperate to be chosen. The times I do choose him he sprints to the front giddy with excitement. Jumping from foot to foot through pure joy, he will try his absolute best to solve the issue at hand. On the tough days (which do come eventually), one glance at Abdullah and your problems will vanish. A huge grin spreading across his face he shouts ‘Teacher!!!’ with all the joy he can muster. And though his English is still simple, the enthusiasm this boy has is enough to banish any sorrow. With people like him in the world, sadness is just not an option. His smile is a reminder.

Tomorrow will be better.’

(To the left: Abdullah, the happiest kid)
            (Abdullhey, Mohammad)                   
(Below: Aisha, Fatima, Bayan)

Then spend the rest of the day as you like. I could show you Bashar, the most gentle 13 year old in the world whose intelligence regularly blows my mind.

Or Rania the coolest girl I have met who has somehow developed a passion for Japanese culture and spends her class getting distracted with anime doodles.

Or the art and Arabic teacher Fida whose patience and kindness shines a moonbeam on all it touches. Her art lines the corridors and her lessons resonate in our minds, letting us know that even in the darkest of nights we can see the light of the moon and know it will be ok.

Or teachers Safa and Abdullah who relentlessly dedicate everything they can to the kids and whose compassion and radiance brightens up the life of all it touches.

Or Diala the eternally cheerful centre psychologist who spends her days listening to the stories of the children, taking their pain on board and replacing it with all the care and love she can muster.

But the truth is I could go on all day about the people here as, in every corner of this place and in the heart of every person, is a shining ray of hope. Every smiling child, every joking teacher, every helpful volunteer, every person in this community of hundreds of people. All of this is a daily reminder:

‘Tomorrow will be better.’

And finally, if at any point during the day you find yourself in need, there at his desk looking over the whole process, is Wael: the centre manager with the oversized heart. For a relatively small man I often wonder how a heart of that size can even fit. Strapped with his own difficulties, he never lets it touch his dedication for his work. An amazing manager, Wael also adopts the role of architect, seamlessly taking the sorrow around him and constructing happiness in its place. He strives to turn the pain in his heart and community into beauty and joy, and he is relentless this mission. He wonderfully maintains this oasis of community and from the beaming faces of the children running all around him, I can say with all confidence that he succeeds. Thank you Wael for all that you have done, may the happiness you have created in this world spread forever. His compassionate commitment reminds me everyday there are people who simply refuse to give up on hope. He shows us all,

‘Tomorrow will be better.’

And maybe after spending a day here you will be able to understand more about the lives of these people. You will begin to see how pain and hope can coexist seemingly harmoniously. Because in a place so intent on optimism, it is easy to forget the difficulties of the kids’ situations, though it is important we do not. Torn from their home by happenings they have no   business in understanding, all while being wrapped in the innocence of youth. For many this would prove too much, but with the amazing help and support of their family at Bukra Ahla, there is a future in sight. Because what exists at SB is not an organisation, but a family. A crazy, sometimes difficult, family. Working tirelessly for the wellbeing of every single member, no matter how small. It has been an honour to share a small part of the best story I have ever known. And though I will eventually have to leave physically, the lessons I learnt will never be far from my mind. And as long as Bukra Ahla continues, we will know in hearts that tomorrow will always be better.