Thursday, July 26, 2007

Well into the Wheat Festival

To train a person with special needs to work is a very delicate issue to handle. Most of these kids and adults are very sensitive. They see a normal person succeed in work and study while they are only limited to receiving love and care.

However, when they get trained to work and achieve in work on a daily basis, their attitude changes. They feel pride in their success and that they can integrate in the society. However, integrating them in the society remains theoretical until the society understands their achievements.

Residents of Al-Amal Institute for the Disabled feel a sense of pride in manufacturing the "Winter Sweater" at Al-Amal Centre in Broummana, which has exceeded 120,000 pieces since 1992 and which have warmed needy persons all over Lebanon.

Nowadays these residents are occupied with the administration and are volunteering in implementing the "Welfare Wheat" program which, merged with the "Winter Sweater", is now called the "Sweater & Wheat" program. This new program encourages people with special needs in rural areas to plant their land with wheat, lentils, chickpeas & beans and turning the wheat into burghul (crushed wheat after boiling & drying the wheat).

The "Welfare Wheat" festival every summer is a big gathering for residents of Al-Amal with volunteers basically coming from 69 welfare centers spread all over Lebanon to help in turning the wheat into burghol and packing the crops before distributing them to the same welfare centers.

During this festival we work together with people with special needs and every minute we feel their pride in their achievements. When we go to swim in the Litani River these kids feel stronger and healthier. Their bodies are rejuvenated by the river water which helps them feel stronger. They also sense the care and love transmitted by their trainers.

The trainers sit daily in the evening and talk about the changes they feel amongst these kids and how they are developing their skills and how the normal kids are accepting them better.

Yes, we are proud of that and hope that you can join us one day during this festival.

The Lebanese Army often join us to assist with logistics and transportation. They also provide advise to the local population on how to avoid land mines and cluster bombs. They even provide some entertainment with their bands.

The festival will finish by the end of this week. So far we have purchased about 20 tons of crops from peasants with special needs. We helped in building the square of the "Rock Village" that Al-Amal is planning to build for people with special needs in South Lebanon on its land near the city of Nabatieh.

We receive visitors on a daily basis to join in the activities and the fun and to show their support. We wish to thank all those who supported us and those who will support us at a later stage. We promise to continue our reports to you.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Preparing for the Welfare Wheat Festival

On Thursday 26th April a delegation from Al Amal and some friends from Lebanon and Canada travelled to the south of Lebanon. First, Sarmad brought his mother-in-law Naimy to visit the Institute.

(Click on the pictures to enlarge)

The residents of the Institute are busier than ever

Sweaters being sawn and wheat being weighed to be placed in the packages

L to R: Naimy with Mahmoud and Nisreen, Adon , Nisreen and Sarmad

L to R: Naimy with Mahmoud and Nurse/Assistant/Secretary Reva, Mahmoud with Nassib

Naimy, Sarmad and Nassib with Mrs. Mounira El Solh, founder of Al Amal Institute for the disabled

Then we headed to Beirut to pick up Marie Claude Fleyfel and her husband Mohamed. On the way we dropped off some produce packages that the Institute give to donors through a telemarketing company in Beirut. For every $70 Al Amal receive from donors they get a unit containing the annual consumption of crops for one person, a “Winter Sweater” made by residents of Al Amal, and cleaning material made by Lebanese factories.

The landrover being loaded up with the wheat packages to be taken to the Telemarketers

Then we headed south. The purpose of the visit was to present the Arnoun Schoolmaster with the application to use the school at Arnoun during the festival period. However, while in the region we took the opportunity to tour some of the areas that were affected by the war last July. For a detailed account of this trip and to view pictures please read the entry in Sarmad’s blog.

The village of Arnoun, the school in the middle. Beaufort Castle in the background

The “Sunbilat Al Khair”, (Welfare Wheat), festival is normally held during the 2nd half of July and the 1st half of August. The purpose of the festival is to help the farmers in the area of Arnoun and their families to harvest, collect and gather the wheat and tobacco produce from their lands, transport it to a huge tent erected on land owned by Al Amal.

The land where the Wheat festival takes place, the posts mark the location of the main tent

L to R: Marie Claude with Adnan and Naimy with Adnan

Then the process of peeling, cleaning and sorting out the wheat starts, followed by cracking some of them transforming them into “burghol”, which is one of the staple foods in the area, as well as in Lebanon. This work is carried out by the mentally handicapped and people with special needs residing at Al Amal Institute for the Disabled and local voluteers of all ages. They are often visited by people travelling to see first hand the work Al Amal does and join in with the work.

The process of cleaning and cracking the wheat - 2004 Welfare Wheat festival

The Institute received a major boost following the Newsletter emailed on 4th April 2007. Shortly after emailing the Newsletter Al Amal received a generous donation of $25,000 from a kindhearted individual who asked to remain anonymous. This helped to inject some much needed stimulant to the “Sweater & Wheat” campaign, and has now allowed the residents at the Institute to step up production of winter sweaters, in addition to providing the Institute with funds to purchase more grain from peasants with special needs at harvest time, during the “Welfare Wheat” festival and the “Harvest” camp.

This year will be the fifth year that this festival will be carried out. Last year it was planned to start the festival on 15th July, however, the Israeli aggression on Lebanon put a stop to it. The organizers were already in the south making last minute preparations when the war broke out, and they had to evacuate the area under fire taking with them some refugees to the Institute in Brummana.

Preparation for this festival normally starts at the beginning of the year. An event of this size takes a lot of preparing for, from obtaining permission from the army, arranging accommodation, and arranging entertainment and other functions. This year it started in April due to the continuing uncertainty.

The army usually helps with providing a truck, camping equipment, and tents. The Shqaif (Beaufort) Municipalities Union, consisting of 28 municipalities, organizes the erection of the main tent which is 534m² in area and is 6 m high at the centre, 3 m high on the sides.

The Lebanese Army Band participating in the 2004 festival

This tent is located in the area of the land known as the “Rock Village” which is an area of rocky land which is earmarked for future development into housing units which will be used to house people with special needs.

At various stages during the festival various celebrities and personalities attend. Local scouts, army marching brigades, Arabic musicians, rock and rap stars, various municipality and local union officials etc. The organizers also arrange visits to local tourist attractions like the Beaufort castle, the Litani river, and even to the Lebanese/Israeli border.

Various activities taking place in the 2004 Welfare Wheat festival