Volunteering in Lebanon: Sandon’s Story

1. Tell us about yourself

My name is Sandon Mims. I am from the United States, and was born in St. Augustine, Florida. I am 23 years old and graduated from the University of Florida in 2017. After earning my bachelor’s degree in Political Science, I moved to Jacksonville, Florida, to work for one year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at World Relief Jacksonville. At World Relief, my primary responsibility was to develop and implement programs to assist low-income refugees access employment and post-secondary education.

2. How did you get involved with SB?

During my time at World Relief, I had the opportunity to work with refugees from nearly every corner of the world who were displaced by violent conflicts like the one in Syria. My job forced me to reckon with the reality of the largest humanitarian displacement crisis in history and introduced me to the incredible ability of refugees to persevere despite such formidable barriers.

While I loved working with refugees in my hometown, the feeling that my passion, time, and talents would be better utilized at the epicenter of human disaster compelled me to search for opportunities to work with refugees in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. When I found SB’s volunteer position in Lebanon on Relief Web, I felt compelled to apply.

3. What is your favourite memory with SB?

I have too many fond memories from my short time with SB thus far to list them all. In no particular order, they include: seeing the smiles on my students’ faces when I visited their homes in the Shatila camp; the first time I heard my students having a conversation in English using the grammar and vocabulary we covered the week before; befriending my Arabic co-teachers and fellow volunteers from around the world; playing a soccer match against the volunteer team in Saida; and taking my students to the playground and seeing them overcome with joy—just to name a few.

4. What do you find challenging?

There are many inherent difficulties working in an environment so unfairly disadvantaged. Of course, it can be depressing to see first-hand the degree of deprivation so pervasive in the Shatila camp. There is a severe lack of resources and opportunity that is completely paralyzing for thousands of people of all ages, including our students, and merely witnessing such circumstances—as an outsider that is here only temporarily—can take a personal toll. On one hand, it is a constant reminder of why I am here: to help the most vulnerable people in the world. On the other, it is overwhelmingly humbling and truly devastating to witness the size and scope of this crisis, and it can be difficult to maintain a sense of enthusiasm and optimism.

Also worth noting are the smaller, day-to-day type challenges. It can be difficult to communicate effectively with students because of the language barrier, and often I feel as though I am not making as much of a difference as I would like. There are frequent power outages and it is not uncommon to go without fresh tap water for 2-3 days, although that is to be expected living and working in neglected areas.

5. Advice for a future volunteer?

Come to Lebanon ready to make a difference, but do not insist on doing things your own way once you arrive. If you come from a “western” country, you must realize that there are important cultural differences, and, out of respect, you should try your hardest to adapt.

Also, don’t fret too much if you have no experience teaching in a classroom setting. The curriculum is elementary and the children are eager to learn. It is much more important that you care enough to put forth your best effort and, I promise, that will suffice.

6. Did it change your life in any way?

Fully accepting the cliché, I truly believe that “this volunteer experience has changed my life forever.” While I still have three and a half months left in Lebanon, there is absolutely no doubt that I will remember the people I have met, the stories I have heard, and the circumstances I have seen for the rest of my life. I think I am a better person because of these experiences, and look forward to many more in the next few months.

7. What was the most important lesson you learned?

Syrian refugee children are often referred to as “the lost generation,” and regrettably, it is true that much of the world carries on without regard for their dire circumstances. I have learned, however—and I think it is important for other people to understand—that Syrian refugee children have not forgotten about themselves. Like other children, they have hopes, dreams, and ambitions that they pursue enthusiastically every day.

I have learned that the discourse surrounding the refugee crisis, and the Syrian situation in particular, is misguided and steeped in condescension. These are real people with personalities, insecurities, and aspirations just like the rest of us, and in my opinion, we shouldn’t be so quick to label hundreds of thousands of people with one simple, catchy tag line that they wouldn’t necessarily agree with.

8. Anything else you want to share?

If you are a qualified candidate that is serious about gaining experience and making a difference, I would recommend applying to volunteer with SB OverSeas. You will be working on the ground with people who are truly in dire need of assistance, and SB is a small enough organization that you can have a real impact on the effectiveness of day-to-day operations. On a personal level, it also provides a great opportunity to utilize and sharpen your skills.

Sandon is currently volunteering in Saida in Lebanon. Interested in volunteering with us in Lebanon? Click here to find out more. 

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