I returned to St. Cloud this week after spending 11 days in the beautiful country of Lebanon. It’s hard to process all that I’ve experience during this trip. Before I left for the Middle East, I had many people ask why I would ever want to go there. Most people were coming from fear and even my own parents were upset that I would want to travel to the Middle East.
It’s sad to say that many of my family are prejudice to other cultures, having grown up in a small community in the Midwest. I must admit that when I moved to St. Cloud 13 years ago, I had somewhat of a culture shock and took on some of those prejudices that my family instilled in me. It makes me sad that I have ever felt this way toward any of my dear brothers and sisters.
I was excited to take this opportunity to travel to Lebanon so that I could bring back to my family and friends that people in the middle east are beautiful and loving. Despite variation in cultures, languages and ethnicities, we all share similar aspirations: to find love, enjoy what we do, protect our family and loved ones and earn a good living. Traveling abroad truly reinforces the idea that we all share the same human experience on this incredibly beautiful planet.
While in Lebanon, I was able to visit the Syrian Refugee camps in the Beqaa Valley. As we drove down the road that led to one of the camps, my heart started to break. The living conditions were very dirty, and the tents seemed to go on forever. I saw many children with injuries from fleeing their homes in Syria. Several children have died in this camp this past winter due torrential rain, freezing winds and snow.
What is a refugee? Refugees are people just like you and me. They are parents, children, grandparents, and friends. They are people who once lived carefree lives and were turned upside down overnight. They are individuals with ambitions and hopes for the future.
When I arrived at the camp and got off my bus, I was greeted by the most happy and joyful children as they were so excited to see me. They grabbed my hands and hugged me. We played games, sang songs, and cheered on some of the boys as they played soccer. I had my camera with me, and they all wanted their pictures taken. The boys reminded me of Power Rangers, and they showed off their best karate moves for the camera. Even though these children had nothing, they still had so much joy. The leaders of the camp welcomed me with open arms and encouraged me to visit them again.
When I got back on my bus and stared out the window, I saw these beautiful children waving to me with big smiles on their faces and making hearts with their hands. My heart will always be with the families in the refugee camps.
We have many refugees in our community that have gone through similar experiences as the refugees that I met in Lebanon. My experience from this trip has opened my heart and my eyes and my hope is that I can help others to look at them with love and compassion as well.