Living inside a Palestinian camp in Lebanon and around it is a daily struggle for a decent life and basic needs. Shajar W Bashar ("Trees and Humans") was established in 2008 to serve the underprivileged neighbourhoods surrounding Ein El Helwi camp, the biggest and most crowded Palestinian camp in Lebanon.
Shajar W Bashar was founded by both Lebanese and Palestinian young activists to provide a safe haven for communication and self expression, skills development and entertainment. It helps bring much needed development to the area to ensure a better life for both Palestinians and Lebanese, working mainly with children, youth and people in need.
Its programs are tailored to encourage youth contribute effectively in improving their community by stressing the importance of volunteer work. Whenever the association gets funding for some projects, it dedicates a part of the money to develop the skills of the volunteers and the sense of social responsibility and peacebuilding, in addition to recruit more volunteers to serve more the community because generally financial resources are scarce. The work involves both Palestinian and Lebanese youth to boost mutual understanding and exchange expertise. Nothing is imposed on them, the programs are developed according to the needs of both groups and inspired by their visions.
As the target audience is people in the underprivileged and underdeveloped surroundings of one of the most crowded camps in the Middle East, Shajar W Bashar, as its name implies, pays special attention to preserving the environment and scarce natural resources in the area.
In such surroundings, many women are widowed and the sole provider for their children. The association works on their empowerment on all levels, in addition to educational and recreational programs dedicated to their children that include free of charge music and art classes.
English classes and storytelling are provided for children aged between 6 and 12 under a program entitled "rainbow of hope" in which children Syrian refugees in the area participate as well in order to build bridges among Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians sharing a crowded and underprivileged area. All come together four days a week, for six months, to learn English and practice language skills together through writings, theatre, music learning and even cooking.
This project is one of very few in Lebanon working with Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian youth. The result is directly reflected in their daily lives, and has affected their families as well, with less tension among the three communities despite the harsh living conditions.
The program involves also public school in Mieh W Mieh, another Palestinian camp in the neighborhood that witnessed violent clashes between Palestinian groups in October 2018. Young children are taught the basics of conflict resolution and peaceful communication, with concrete directions on how to apply it on their school experiences and daily activities, as the organisation believes that human development and peacebuilding starts with children to protect them from violent extremism.
The program was also brought by Shajar W Bashar to other areas in Lebanon with Syrian refugees' presence such as Jeb Jennine in the Bekaa and Tripoli in the North. Children play while acquiring new tools and building bridges of trust among each other.
Children and youth supported by Shajar W Bashar and those in some of the schools in Saida area are encouraged to collect plastic bottles, which is an easy practice to learn about recycling for a good cause. They participate in planting tree events in Saida, Nabatiyeh and Jezzine and are encouraged to come up with their own ideas for small ecological projects and produce art from recycled and second hand materials. Younger children are directed to work collectively on drawings and writing short stories on preserving the environment.
Shajar W Bashar helps children and youth participate in summer camps in Saida areas as well all over Lebanon in collaboration with other organisations. Common youth forums are organised to enhance the culture of mutual understanding, teamwork skills peacebuilding efforts among youth from different backgrounds.
Whenever possible, groups of children and volunteers go to some eco-friendly car free events organised in several Beirut districts, as a recreational environmental activity enhancing internal tourism as well.
Shajar W Bashar led a lobbying campaign with other local associations to establish a permanent green area in Saida that is car free all day long, open for pedestrians and bikers throughout the year. Local schools were involved in the campaign which was also an opportunity for students to practice team work and volunteering for a cause that would benefit all the residents in Saida, Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian as well. Many students worked together in producing a theatrical production highlighting the cause, which is to care about the environment and the communities around while spreading peace and harmony.