2023-03-05 BRAZIL

“A wandering Aramean was my father” – Two months at the side of refugees in Lebanon

For two months, Brother Donavan Farias Machado, from the Province of Brasil Sul-Amazônia, did an international volunteer experience in the Fratelli Project in Lebanon, from December 15, 2022 to February 15, 2023. He is 32 years old and from Porto Alegre. Below, in interview form, is his testimony.

What were your motivations for volunteering abroad?

Opening to knowledge and learning new social and cultural paradigms, as well as the challenge to live in a completely new and different context.

What marked you most in your experience?

The period that I was in Lebanon was remarkable in many aspects: religious, cultural, social, etc. But the hospitality and welcome of the people that I had the pleasure to meet and live with was incredible. Starting with the Fratelli Community, where I was very well received, and which played a very important role in my personal and community development during the whole period. Another factor was the mission carried out with the children and young people of the region, most of whom are Syrian families that came to Lebanon fleeing the horrors of the civil war in their country.

If you could define your volunteering in a few words, what are the expressions or concepts that sum up your experience?

“A wandering Aramean was my father”. This phrase found in Deuteronomy 26 refers to the figure of Abraham and, as the name of the Patriarch implies, “Father of all”, refers to the peoples who make up the religions of the books: Judaism, Christianism and Islam. It is also the initial part of the so-called “credo-historical” of the People of Israel. I have lived with children and young people coming from families that for generations have been on the road in search of better living conditions. Expelled and fleeing from their lands because of wars, persecutions, hunger, and death, bearers of historical wounds that never heal, they leave in search of survival, sometimes submitting themselves to dangerous and badly paid jobs, in the hope of ensuring the minimum subsistence for themselves and their families. They are the ones who seek the crumbs that fall from rich and sumptuous tables.

In the biblical story, Abram leaves with Sarai and her family for the land promised by God, “a land flowing with milk and honey”. This theological topos was where the Abrahamic family could pitch their tent, for in this place they found the possibility of life in abundance. The fear, hunger, violence, and misery that haunted them for so long were extinguished, and the dignity of the people was reestablished and consecrated as the predominant factor in the relationship between the divine and the human.

Our brothers and sisters continue their way in search of better living conditions. They have not yet reached the “promised land”, but in the middle of the road they have found safe harbors that allow them to experience what have been them denied: love and dignity. I believe that the Fratelli Project is an important haven for many families, both Syrian and Lebanese. There I was able to witness what Jesus of Nazareth made clear to all who followed him: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).

Is there a particular moment that marked your experience?

The joy and happiness stamped on the children’s faces as they arrived at school was something that really caught my attention. The “Sabah Al Khair!” (good morning in the Arabic language) was always accompanied by a big smile on their faces.

What did you learn during this time?

It is always said that we should be open to the “different,” that this movement of openness to new cultures, to the “totally other” is essential for us to have a global vision of the world we live in. And this is right. It is evident that intercultural experiences are essential for our development as social beings, and extremely important for the deconstruction of many pre-established concepts in an erroneous and mistaken manner. However, what is interesting in this process is to realize that the one who was initially considered by you to be the “totally other” is not so “totally” as we thought. Along the way we discover many similarities that help to strengthen relationships. And the one who initially was “totally other” ends up becoming your brother and sister.

Were there any challenges?

The language experience was something incredible and enriching. It was very common in a conversation circle to have people talking in Arabic, French, and English simultaneously. And everyone understood each other. For me, this possibility of learning (Arabic) and being able to express myself in both languages (English and French) was a challenge and a learning experience. A challenge because I had to learn a new language (Arabic) and to really exercise the other two (French and English), but also to learn from this linguistic experience.

As a Marist experience, what has this time meant for you?

I have realized that I am not only a Brother for my home Province, but a Brother of and for the Marist Institute. This allows us to look beyond the provincial boundaries and perceive the Marist mission in a global and intercultural way.

What would you like to say to those who wish to become Marist volunteers outside their Province?

I once heard Brother Nilvo Favretto say: “Where the heart burns, the feet start to walk”. First of all, you need to have the will to set out on the road to have a profound and transforming experience. It is important wishing to listen, to learn and to respect. It is necesary to walk together with the people that you will also be part of. For you will learn to smile and cry with the new family that will welcome you. This is why the volunteer experience is unique and unrepeatable.


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