Monday, December 17, 2007

UN Security

[K] They’ve put me through three different security trainings, and counting. The first day, before visiting the Nahr el Barad Camp, I had a short briefing that I thought was all I needed. It included instruction in identifying UXOs, that’s unexploded ordnance, and what to do if I should find any (tell the Army). I had no idea what a big deal it was that I was allowed to visit the refugee camp that first day without passing the Basic Security Training and Advanced Security Training Courses, and getting supplied with a cell phone and VHF radio. I spent the next two days in the Beirut office getting those things done.

The training courses are computer-based and interactive. They are really well done, and apparently used for UN staff all over the world. They cover safety of all types, and include car and convoy travel, hotels, survival techniques, and assorted tips like don’t use cell phones near a suspected bomb…

In the UNRWA offices (in the Quality Inn in Tripoli about 10 miles away from the camp; the old offices are inaccessible), one has to sign in and out of the office and say you are going, and when in the camp, one has to keep in radio contact every 30 minutes. I was given a list of radio abbreviations for the different locations. I still have yet to take a more detailed radio training. Should you wish to dial me up on your VHF radio, just call me Bravo William 936.

Friday, December 7, 2007

What a gig


Now that I am firmly ensconced in my position as a special education teacher in an international school I have time to write. The school is not a typical international school in that most of the students are Lebanese, and rich Lebanese at that. The school has a mix of Christian, Sunni, and Shia. A lot of foreign embassies that allow families to accompany their employees send their kids to the school. America does not allow embassy employed families to live here.

The job itself is different than any I have had. It is more of a learning support position rather than providing services just for students with learning disabilities. The elementary school, where I work, is an excellent environment in which to work. The principal is strong, honest, and fair. I really enjoy the little ones.

The school is just a block from the Corniche and the Mediterranean. The Corniche is a seaside walkway that is beautiful to walk down. The school has about 950 students K-12. I understand that the environment in the middle school and especially the high school is chaotic and suffers from a lack of positive leadership. I feel lucky. In all I am having fun and learning a lot. I feel what I have to say is heard and acted upon. We are truly enjoying ourselves.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Nahr el Barad

My first day of work at UNWRA, I got to visit Nahr el Barad and Beddawi refugee camps. Nahr el Barad is the one that was completely destroyed by fighting earlier this year between a Palestinian splinter group and the Lebanese Army. It is also where I’ll be working, eventually. For now, there are so few standing buildings that the UNRWA office is in a hotel in Tripoli, about 15 minutes drive away.

Ninety percent of the camp was destroyed, displacing 30,000 people, most of whom fled to the already overcrowded Beddawi camp, about 10 miles away. Others took refuge in schools and mosques.

A recent article in The Guardian describing the camp, says: “Most of the large apartment buildings at the camp have been shredded to their foundations, […buckled] under the weight of giant floor slabs, others collapsed entirely…Bullet holes pepper every face of the ruined landscape… Many walls have been blown away to reveal gutted houses, with charred, splintered furniture dangling over the mess below… The wreckage of luxury cars, now burnt and twisted, recall the prosperity enjoyed by some in Nahr el Barad before the siege…” People who had lived here for many years, were allowed to take only one bag with them when they left.

After the fighting stopped, the looting began. There is nothing left. The Lebanese Army, after checking houses for unexploded ordnance, often blew up the houses.

Before reconstruction can begin, almost 1,000,000 square yards of rubble need to be removed, which will cost $10 million. Fortunately, international donors responded to an emergency appeal and funds are available.

Only 1,000 families have been allowed to return. But they have returned to terribly substandard housing. A contractor hired to build a new six storey apartment block has not gotten windows installed in three of the floors, in December, after months of work. The roof leaks, sending water all the way down to the first floor. I could see cracks between the cinder block walls of the new building. At least, after our visit, heavy plastic, hammers and nails were ordered to be immediately provided for those apartments without windows.

In another area of the camp, residents in some hastily constructed dwellings complained of flooding and no hot water. What they didn’t complain about, or what I didn’t hear, were complaints of schools yet to open for their children, no jobs for the adults, and, of course, no future.

Reconstruction is painfully slow. In order to be accountable to donors, there is a strict procurement process: 1) create budget, 2) get it approved, 3) put items needed up for bid, 4) wait for contractors to bid, 5) get bank guarantees for contractors, 6) evaluate bids at the main office (Beirut), 7) get signatures on contracts, 8) mobilize contractors. And then, as seen in the leaky roofs, monitor every step of the way.

There is money approved to build 1500 temporary houses, but the Lebanese government has not made any land available; the army wants the refugees to stay in a confined area, so land choices are very limited.

The camp borders the Mediterranean, along which I will travel an hour each day to work.
In a MUCH lighter vein, here are some signs I have seen along the way and around Beirut:
  • Internet Romance Cave (just outside Beddawi Camp)
  • Gentle Bag
  • Nails and roots (a beauty shop, of course)
  • Look and Like
  • Rocky Nuts
  • I believe in Bata [shoes] Noel

And a fave: the headquarters of Electricite du Liban, with almost half the neon letters dark.

P.S. Still no president!!