Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A rewarding and frustrating visit

I spent most of the day in the camp yesterday, taking photographs for one ginormous report I'm working on, and talking to beneficiaries as well. Most of my day was encouraging:

I witnessed the installation of solar panels on the best block of temporary accommodation we have. As you can see, some transparent panels have been put in the roofing to allow greater light in.

I then paid a visit to one of the clinics, where there was a dentist, a pharmacy, and a female doctor all working hard. I had to giggle at this sign...

because a few seconds after I took it, three men came and sat down under it and lit up cigarettes.

I then checked out the women's program centre, which is providing skills training in make-up and hairdressing (and funky hijab arranging)

in sewing

and sweets preparation

It was great to actually talk to these young women and find out what they were learning, if they were enjoying themselves, and what their families thought of their involvement. I spent a year doing this in Bangladesh, and it was nice to get back into some qualitative reflection.

Since we were in the neighbourhood, we swung past Package 1 to check out the reconstruction...it's coming along nicely.

It was the third to last stop that got to me. We went into one of the "collective centres" which is probably the crappiest accommodation option in the area. Basically, it's a big room, that's been divided up with fibro boards. It's dark, it's dingy, it's soul sucking.

The people were complaining that there are rats and insects. It's a terrible place to live. But this wasn't what upset me. Well, it was only one of the reasons why I was upset. What really got to me was the fact that the people living here were doing so by choice. They were offered rental cash subsidies, which are $150 per month, but refused to move out. They were offered units in the plot with the transparent roofing. They refused to move out. It upsets me that these people would choose to live in such a hell hole, would choose to raise their children in such a hell hole, when there are better options available to them. I can not understand why, and no-one has been able to explain it to me.

The second to last stop cheered me up. I went into my colleague's brother-in-law's shop and he had prostitute red nail polish, which is always fun. The price was 1000 pounds, I told him that was too cheap, that he should sell it for 3000. But I put 1000 on the counter, which he tried to refuse. The generosity of strangers, particularly strangers who don't have much to give, always astounds me. Before I leave this country I'm going to go on a massive spending spree in the camp since the reactivation of businesses has been so slow. Prostitute red nail polish for all!!

My last stop was a meeting with a university student who received a scholarship from UNRWA. Lina is a great girl, who's in her third year of a biology degree with a 3.4 GPA (out of 4). We sat and talked for about half an hour about her life, her studies, her dreams. There's obviously a lot of healing that remains to be needed, but she's got a bright future ahead of her.

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