For over 20 years, the Chabrouh camps in Lebanon have represented a unique example of the thousand-year-old mission of care of the Order of Malta: reaching out to the needy and the marginalized. Located 60 kilometres north east of Beirut, the project, managed by the Lebanese Association of the Order of Malta, hosts holiday camps throughout the year for the severely mentally and physically disabled.
The camp is the only facility in the Middle East which is fully equipped to accommodate the severely impaired. Its capacity, in terms of guests and volunteers, continues to grow: currently it hosts some 600 guests and 900 volunteers each year. But this figure is expected to increase after the opening of a new location in the nearby area of Kfardebian, which in 2018 hosted 50 guests and 61 volunteers in two camps run by young Spanish volunteers, and two by the Swiss.
During this year a total of 36 camps are scheduled, each one week long, involving 12 delegations of the Order of Malta with volunteers of over 20 nationalities.
But this increasing number meets just a small fraction of the demand from care homes and psychiatric centres in Lebanon, where mental and physical illness is very stigmatized and the sufferers receive poor quality care. The Lebanese Association is planning to expand and streamline access and facilities for those attending the camps and to increase capacity so that they will be able to accommodate 1500 guests annually. This would provide care for 25% of the total demand.
Mission of the camps
The aim of the camps is to promote coexistence and solidarity, bringing together volunteers from all over the world to assist physically and mentally challenged individuals, from children as young as 6, to adults over 70, and from all religious denominations.
The volunteers, who are between the ages of 18 and 30, receive field training and are inspired by the Order’s core values of compassion and respect for human dignity. They live an extraordinary experience, which fills their hearts and shapes them for the rest of their lives. It is an experience of solidarity and friendship which many volunteers have chosen to repeat time after time. Chabrouh is indeed a place for the youth of the Order to live together, witness and put into practice their twin mission of tuitio fidei and obsequium pauperum.
Organization of the camps
Each different delegation of the Order of Malta is put in charge of organizing and managing the camps in Chabrouh throughout the year. As the message for involvement spreads, the number of delegations continues to increase. In addition to the Lebanese themselves, the others come from Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Palestine, Spain, Switzerland and United Kingdom.
Volunteers spend six full days with their guests in the camp, providing them with assistance, care, and the precious one-on-one relationship which most of them – suffering from cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, epilepsy – lack in their daily lives. On day one, each volunteer is assigned to a guest for whom she/he will be responsible for the duration of the camp. This includes health and hygiene care, feeding and entertainment.
A variety of activities is organized every day, such as walks, games, singing sessions, bonfires, prayers, theatre plays, beach outings in the summer, snow sledding in the winter.
A Safety & Security Committee continuously monitors the situation and is responsible for the safety of all volunteers at all times.
In addition to the traditional camps, special camps for young children with disabilities are organized each year by the Lebanese Association’s youth organisation. For the third consecutive year, members of the Order have also organized the young children’s camp in Chabrouh. There are also ‘veteran camps’, which are run by the volunteers who first started the project 20 years ago.
Patrick Jabre, Project Manager of the Chabrouh camps, says: “It is the young volunteers who come to Chabrouh whose lives are impacted the most by their experience. When they first enter the camp, they are not quite sure what to expect from the experience. By the end of the camp, volunteers and guests all look the same. No one is defined by what she or he is wearing, nor how they look – but by the actions they take and the ethic of care with which they treat and relate to each other.”
Over the past 20 years, through the experience of thousands of volunteers coming from more than 20 countries, Chabrouh has acquired a selection of best practices which intertwine with the values of coexistence and solidarity – key values indeed, in a country with 18 different confessions.
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