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10 December 2023

Take a walk for these Lebanese orphans

Children at an SOS Children's Villages shelter in Lebanon. (SUPPLIED)

By Reena Amos Dyes

The Dubai-based charity Gulf for Good is inviting people to attend an evening with them on Wednesday so that they can learn more about the Lebanon Mountain Eco-Trail challenge that will be held in May this year.

The Lebanon challenge will support the Palestine Children's Relief Fund and SOS Children's Villages – which care for refugees and orphans in Lebanon.

Lina Sarkis, Assistant National Director for Administration, SOS Children's Villages Lebanon, told Emirates Business: "When a child comes to an SOS Village, he becomes part of a larger family. We try to provide them as normal a family life as we can under the circumstances. Once we adopt a child we adopt him for life. We continue our relationship with these children even after they get jobs and get married. We become a part of each other's lives forever and share all their life's achievements, sorrows and experiences just like a normal family would."

Each SOS village houses its children in individual homes with a house mother and house aunt who look after the seven or nine children placed in their care. The house mother brings up the children as her own and maintains her relationship with the children even after they leave the village and lead independent lives, the way a real mother would.

Sarkis said: "Our house mothers are women who are either divorced, widowed or spinsters over 30 who don't have children of their own. Because of this, these women form true and lasting bonds with the children and love them as their own.

"They look after the children till they are teenagers and then the children are moved to a SOS Youth House where the boys and girls live separately and are looked after by the youth leaders who teach them how to become independent.

"However, as we are a family, each child is moved to the youth house only if they are mentally prepared for it. If at any time we feel that a child is still insecure and needs his or her house mother for longer we let them stay on for a bit till they are ready to move on. Each village has a psychologist and a village committee that takes decisions about the children on a case by case basis."

The village adopts children who are as young as an hour-old. The upper age limit for adoption is 10 years. But here too, SOS makes an exception if the circumstances so demand. Many times, Sarkis said, children with siblings are also brought to the organisation for adoption after losing their parents in an accident or conflict.

"However, if any of the children in the family are older than 10, we still adopt them as we don't want to separate families. All the siblings are kept in the same house with the same house mother." She cites the instance of four children who were brought in several years ago.?Even though the eldest, a boy, was over the age of 10, the organisation kept them all together so the family would not have to deal with the additional trauma of being broken up. "Today the eldest girl Joelle is a lawyer," Sarkis said proudly.

Once in the SOS village, the children are given an education. As they become older, they move on to SOS Youth Houses where their education continues and SOS funds any professional education that the children may choose to pursue. This mentoring continues till the youngsters achieve financial independence or get married.

"Once a two-day-old girl was abandoned in front of the village and was found by the gardner. Today Lara is 17 years old and is studying higher technology. Many a times the children go back to their original families that were incapable of taking care of them at that time.

"We never hide the truth of their origins from the children and always try to keep them close to their roots and tell them about their real families. However, even if they go back to their original families, we keep our bond with them for life and visit them to ensure they are happy. If they need further assistance the SOS Village is always by their side."

Sarkis said funding comes mostly from corporates and through people who sponsor a child by giving a small monthly or yearly stipend of $13.5 (Dh49.54)?or $160 respectively. Charities like Gulf for Good also contribute significantly. She said the proceeds from the Lebanon challenge would go towards furnishing two new houses for the children.

Patricia Anderson, Communications Manager, Gulf for Good, said: "We are still looking for people for the Lebanon challenge. That's why we would like them to come over for the information evening on January 27 so that they know what it's all about. Last year we raised Dh650,000 in spite of the recession. This year we hope to raise more so that we can help more children around the world."

What you can expect from the Lebanon challenge

Gulf for Good's next challenge, the Lebanon Mountain Eco-Trail will be held from May 7 to 14.

Determined to conserve their unique natural and cultural heritage through environmentally and socially responsible ecotourism, the Lebanese mountain communities created this trail with sweeping vistas of snow-capped mountains, deep lush valleys and the sparkling Mediterranean. It encompasses remote villages, nature reserves, castles, palaces, monasteries and ruins dating back to Roman and medieval times.

"The Lebanon Mountain Eco-Trail is a great way to get take part in a charitable endeavour," said Brian Wilkie, Chairman, Gulf for Good. It will give participants the chance to discover Lebanon's remote natural beauty, connect with her warm and friendly people, and experience age-old culture and culinary delight. The route will test the physical fitness of participants, as it will require stamina and perseverance to complete long-distance treks each day to raise funds for the two charities in Lebanon."

For more information on the Lebanon Mountain Eco-Trail

call 04 368 0222 or

visit www.gulf4good.org


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