There was only one moment in my month-long excursion in Beirut, Lebanon, where I wanted to go home: after a morning of working with kids, I started to feel nauseous, then shaky, and finally faint. I nearly collapsed down the stairs in an attempt to grab water from the kitchen.
This bout with sickness, or what this cold-blooded Canadian later learned was called “heat stroke”, was, fortunately, the worst of my time in Lebanon. Everything that was terrible at that moment, however, was matched with the kindness and care shown to me by my coworkers as they fretted over my frail state.
I had left around a month earlier from Calgary, Alberta, along with two friends and my aunt and uncle, to head to my uncle’s homeland of Lebanon. The trip was supported by the Edmonton non-governmental organization (NGO) Humanserve International in order for me to go and volunteer with their affiliate, Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD), which runs three kindergarten programs in various parts of Lebanon.
I was specifically volunteering at PARD’s Beirut kindergarten, located in the Daouk Palestinian gathering, which Humanserve International was helping to fund. However, during my time in Lebanon, I did visit the other two kindergarten programs located in Tyre and Jal Al Bahar in order to see how each of these programs deal with a variety of unique struggles, such as transportation of children to the program as well as issues dealing with local government structures.
While touring these various locations as part of my travels in Lebanon, a majority of my time was spent teaching the K1 (three-year-olds), K2 (four-year-olds), and K3 (five-year-olds) classes physical education, some art projects, as well as team building and exercise for the teachers. PARD wanted to implement structured play into their curriculum in order to see how physical activity could improve the children’s attention in class. In addition, PARD wanted to provide a space for kids that were potentially struggling with being uprooted from their homes to play and work through connection complications that may arise when learning something in a classroom.
As a result, my duties were to organize two classes per day from Tuesday to Thursday, focused on either physical education or art. In addition, on Fridays I would organize an activity for all of the teachers in which together we would participate in physical activity of some kind (e.g. yoga, circuit training, etc).
For the kids, my main focus was on developing both primary and secondary body awareness as they would learn the balance, reach, and capabilities of their bodies. My second focus was to allow them the space to create and lead for themselves. As a result, many of the activities were followed by one of the children leading the rest of the group in their favourite stretch, movement, or moment in class.
Throughout my time teaching in Lebanon there was one element that persisted: I learned more than I ever taught. This learning came from the beautiful Lebanese culture, the willingness of the children to laugh and play, and the friendships that were formed between the other teachers and myself.
All of these lessons were summarized for me as I lay on the couch in the teacher’s lounge, sipping tea made for me by the principal of the school, and trying to desperately recover from my bout with heat stroke. The children, heading to their next class, stopped by and, in broken English, attempted to make me feel better; the teacher, who helped translate my classes, expressed concern for me making it back to my apartment and offered to walk with me; and the secretary (who could not speak any English) stayed with me and kept bringing me glasses of water.
At that moment I realized that, while I may be thousands of miles away from home, the kindness and love of these strangers allowed me to experience the comfort and feelings of home. I learned the lesson that education is at its best when community is formed and care is shown to everyone involved.