Thread of Hope: Ibtesam

Thread of Hope is a campaign in order to raise funds for new sewing machines. For our women in Lebanon a sewing machine equals an opportunity to not only earn a source of income, but to build a community. Read more about our campaign here.

Ibtesam is the fifth part in an eight part series of stories of the women who come to our empowerment programs.

Ibtesam (ابتسام ) means smile in Arabic. Befittingly, it is the name of a student enrolled in the SB OverSeas Bukra Ahla Center in Beirut. She not only has the brightest smile, but also the brightest mind.

Ibtesam, 36, was born and raised in Syria. She comes from a family of six brothers and four sisters. She, the youngest of the girls, was unable to finish her studies past the age of 12 because of the cost to her family. Ibtesam married at the age of 21, and is now a mother to six children. At the outbreak of the conflict in Syria, when the tensions of war became too great a threat to their safety, Ibtesam, her husband, and her children sought refuge by relocating to Lebanon.

Relocation came with its own set of problems, as Ibtesam and her husband found it quite difficult to find consistent work. Job security was difficult to guarantee, not only because of their refugee status, but also because they spoke neither English nor French. Eventually her husband found varying forms of work to support the family, but Ibtesam was largely relegated to her home- as the main caretaker of her children and their home.

About a year ago, a friend of Ibtesam mentioned a school in the Shatila area that not only offered English classes to children, but to adult women as well. Ibtesam immediately sought out this opportunity, and joined us here at the SB Overseas Center, as soon as there was space available.

My first encounter with Ibtesam was on my first day of teaching at the Bukra Ahla. She was the first of the students to arrive in class and sat patiently, with her four year old son seated on her lap, as we waited for the other women to arrive for class. As we sat, in a comfortable silence, I saw her reach into her purse and pull out a sweet treat for her son. She then reached back into her purse and pulled one out for me. Despite my protestation, Ibtesam graciously gave me the treat as if I were no different or older than her own child. This first encounter, is a just a glimpse into the larger picture of who Ibtesam is, and how quick she is to give whatever she has to those around her.

Ibtesam is one of the most active students in the classroom. She does not hesitate in the slightest to ask me questions, to ask me to slow down, to translate for the other women, and ask for extra work. Time and again after class she hands me little scraps of paper with stories scribbled on them, or sentences that she wants tailored so that she might improve. In my first few weeks, I attributed this eagerness to just keenness in the classroom. But what I was missing the larger picture of who Ibtesam was, like when she first gave me that candy treat.

A few weeks ago it came to the attention of SB that Ibtesam was doing something quite special with the lessons she was learning in our centre. Ibtesam was so urgent in her desire to master the English language, not just because she was looking to better her situation with this skill, but more importantly she wants to give it away. To her home of six children, she brings back lessons and instructs her children in a manner similar to the way she was taught in class. The lesson range from the sounds of the letters in the English alphabet, new vocabulary, speaking, reading, and writing. These in-home lessons have gone on to grow beyond her own family as she now teachers an additional 8 children from her housing complex.

Bukra Ahla is the name of the SB schooling centres in Beirut. Bukra Ahla, (بكرا أحلى) translated into English means, A Better Tomorrow. Ibtesam could not be a better embodiment of the name and the mission of this school. The education being given to our students is not limited to the four walls of our centre. The lessons taught in the center, because of students like Ibtesam, have reach, and have depth; reach and depth that bring us one step closer to a better tomorrow. Ibtesam’s urgency and eagerness to share, means that one more student is being empowered by education. Who is to say where that child may go, or with whom that child may share their newfound knowledge.

It goes without saying that SB Overseas mission is an important one in the effort to educate and empower those that the world has cast aside in so many ways.   More to the point, however, what we are doing here is working. The education being given to our students is not limited to the four walls of our centre. It is reaching out into the greater community in ways that a teacher could only hope for. With students like Ibtesam at the helm, the resilience and vision, of those we are helping is boundless. It is such a privilege to work in class with each of our students, and to be a part of something so much bigger than I, personally, could have ever envisioned.

Written by Madison White who is currently volunteering with SB OverSeas in Lebanon.

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