Our mind in Brussels but our heart in Lebanon: Working to bridge two refugee realities

I often get asked about how it’s possible for a small organisation like SB OverSeas to operate in both Lebanon and Brussels — What’s the connection? Why Lebanon? Why Brussels?

We may be a relatively small organisation compared to the massive international organisations that operate offices in both Lebanon and Brussels, but the dedication, strength, power and love within SB’s team makes up for the lack of size. I spent the last two weeks with our teams in Lebanon, and not only saw the connection clearly, I also learned how much this small organization means to so many people.

This impact was most evident when I had the chance to spend the day with our entire team during a rare full-team of SB OverSeas teambuilding day at the Awaly Park in the sea-side town of Saida, Lebanon. Brussels, Beirut, Saida and Arsal teams of teachers and staff joined forces to spend a day focused on building relationships, cooperation between the members of the staff, as well as to have fun together in a de-stressing way. We gathered among the trees blowing in the wind and the river slowly passing by, an environment in nature that sparks creativity and serenity.

The teambuilding day had the goal of building relationships between and within our respective centres and offices, developing our awareness of each other’s strengths and about how to work with each other under stressful and challenging circumstances. Led by our resident psychologists and education coordinator, Eman, Diala and Karla, we engaged in a series of activities that tested our communication skills, flexed our ability to empathize with others and created a space for discussion on our strengths and weaknesses. While we started the day with the staff paired with their colleagues from the same centre, by the second activity the whole team was mixed between centres, taking advantage of a rare time to connect with their colleagues in a different city.

In one of the activities, each person was tasked with creating a poster that represents them as an individual, using a bit of newspaper, glitter and other things found in the nature around us. We then each took turns presenting what we made, and a bit more about ourselves to the whole group. The majority of the SB OverSeas staff in Lebanon are Syrians and therefore among what was shared were stories of success, but also of failure, of losing a family member, but also of gaining a family from the people at SB. In that moment of sharing, we were able to all feel connected in our passion for helping others and our drive to achieve our goals both personally, and for the work we do together.

I felt particularly lucky to be among my colleagues for this rare moment of sharing, empathy, communication and community. The physical distance between Lebanon and Brussels is difficult to manage admittedly; not only because of the different realities between the two contexts, related to daily life and the work that we do in each location, it’s also the fact that my life in Brussels allows me to go to Lebanon and visit my colleagues. My colleagues are not able to do the same. It’s a heartbreaking thing to think about, but that’s also what makes it so important for SB to exist in both these spaces. For my Syrian colleagues, the men, women, youth and children that come to our centres — SB OverSeas in Brussels is a communication line between them and the powerful international community in order for them to express what their lives, their reality, their struggles, their needs, their power, their capabilities are even when their physical presence here is not possible.

While it’s difficult for this element of our work to be clearly evident in Brussels due to the distance, the difference and the comfort of our lives here, it’s constantly at the basis of every report and project we propose, and each article, video and photo we publish. So the answer to why is SB OverSeas in both Brussels and Lebanon — because we have to be.