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Farah Al Ataa is a Lebanese NGO. Its mission can be summarised by the meaning of its name, 'the joy of giving'. Its vision is that of a united, pluralist Lebanon, free and just with harmony, forgiveness and tolerance. All of this achieved through the creation of the bond of citizenship by humanitarian work.
Farah Al Ataa was founded in 1985 by a group of young volunteers from every social class and religious confession who wanted to create a space to meet and say 'no to war,' which was still ongoing, bringing Lebanese together at a time of division. Their aim then, still carried by the organisation today, is to give hope under three principles, love (mahabba), forgiveness (tasamuh), and respect (ihtiram). These three principles would simply allow a person to feel the "joy of giving" (farah al ataa). Whenever someone offers money to help, he/she is simply requested to volunteer in community service. In fact, one of the organisation's mottos is "don't thank us, join us".
It takes great care to avoiding dependency on financial donors. Yet it welcomes all the help it gets from local partners such as the Municipality of Tripoli, and international like "les Amis de Soeur Emmanuelle" in France.
Since its inception, Farah Al Ataa established itself as a citizen movement. It has organised diverse activities as it develops to pursue its mission. Initially its volunteers held recreational "peace camps", for children aged 7-15, even before the civil war ended. They were chosen from diverse areas and communities from all over Lebanon. Some of these children matured and acquired professional skills and became very active volunteers themselves.
In 1992, the organisation introduced a cleaning campaign that united volunteers from all over the country to save Lake Aiha in the Bekaa region. However, they noticed their activity was not successful as garbage accumulated again. From this experience, Farah Al Ataa learned that without incorporating the local population in the activity itself, and without assuring the continuity of the structure of work, the effect of the activities will not be sustainable as the improvements in the areas will not preserved or maintained.
In fact, this was an early example of Farah Al Ataa's environmental interests and work to raise awareness in this field. Most recently, it played a pioneering role in tackling the Lebanese garbage crisis and providing practical solutions that are both efficient and cheap to safely pack the piles of garbage that are still on the roads in many areas in the greater Beirut area. Volunteers sorted the bags, putting recyclable items separately. They even cleaned Roumieh prison, the biggest in the country.
That experience of working within prisons was not the first. In 1993, volunteers organised to improve the living conditions of detainees in Lebanese prisons, distributing winter clothing and hygiene products. Five years later, Farah Al Ataa hosted juvenile detainees for a work camp with judicial approval.
In recent years, during national crises such as the 2006 conflict with Israel, during explosions in Beirut's southern suburb and Achrafieh, in places like Abra in the South that have witnessed clashes between the Lebanese army and fundamentalist religious group, and in the Bab el Tebbeneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods in Tripoli, Farah Al Ataa's presence has made up for the slow pace of governmental action and the lack of emergency plans. It rallied thousands of volunteers to rebuild destroyed homes, volunteers gave their time and love to fellow citizens in need.
Farah Al Ataa also collaborated with other civil society organisation lobbying for the establishment of a national department for food safety, after many scandals in this field that revealed corruption on all levels that threaten the safety of what citizens eat and drink.
Every year, Farah Al Ataa commemorates the anniversary of the civil war in April 13th, with a series of activities including an all-faith common prayer. Over the last 20 years, it has organised numerous training workshops and seminars on topics focusing on civil society issues, public health, social work and the promotion of citizenship.
Respecting every child's right to education, in 2013 the organisation established a school in Kfifan in the North, solely dedicated to Syrian refugees. That same school was renovated in 1993 after being destroyed during the war to become a youth center and the headquarters of Farah Al Ataa.
The success of this inspiring experience encouraged Melhem Khalaf, a lawyer and professor of law and the organisation's manager on a volunteering basis, to look beyond Lebanon. Following a bombing that killed 52 worshippers at Baghdad's Lady of Salvation church in 2010, Khalaf led a group of volunteers to the Iraqi capital.
Later, the group expended its work to the Kurdish cities of Erbil and Dohuk where it established an educational center hosting 940 pupils. It later hosted Iraqi children in a summer camp in Lebanon, and supported women's empowerment projects in Ainkawa, where it organised Christmas activities for the community.
In Iraq, as in Lebanon, Farah Al Ataa works with a cross sectarian volunteer-base despite intensive divisions. Egyptians and Syrians are interested in common projects with Farah Al Ataa.
Last updated: August 2016