What is it like for families to live as refugees without schools or work to go to and only canvas between you and the elements? SAT-7 Lebanon producer Johnny Jalek set out to answer these questions for his viewers when he began planning a filmed a visit to Syrian refugees.
Johnny knew that, while many Lebanese have reached out to Syrians with empathy, welcoming them to their churches, for example, others see them as a threat to their own livelihoods and competitors for limited resources. So Johnny’s goal was to celebrate Christmas and New Year with them and “shed a light on their situation so our viewers can catch a glimpse of what is really happening.”
After meeting with workers for a Lebanese Christian NGO which is running services for thousands of Syrians, Johnny chose a remote spot in South Lebanon to film his one-off programme, Go and Visit Them.“I wanted to visit a small group where we could get closer to the people and keep the focus on a shared celebration,” Johnny explains. At Al Zahrani, he says “There were two families living together as a group of 16 on the mountain.”
So, with cameras rolling and Christmas gifts packed, From Me to You youth show presenters Rawad (Rico) and Tamar (herself Syrian), and SAT-7 KIDS’ Bible Heroes presenter Karen drove off from SAT-7’s Beirut studios.
The welcome they received and resilience they saw touched everyone. “Our visit to the two Syrian families was a special experience to me,” Karen says. “When I first arrived, I thought they were one family, but they weren’t. They met there and became close friends. The love and care they had for each other was amazing. Seeing how they are living with what they have and are OK with it, touched me a lot.”
The story of 13-year-old Ahmad affected all the presenters. Ahmad had been selected by a top Syrian football team but his dreams of a sports career now seemed in tatters. Yet, as everyone unwrapped their Christmas presents, Rawad gave Ahmad a new football and told him, “One day, when you become a champion … remember that some people in Lebanon loved you.”
Ahmad’s football was then put to good use as young and old joined in a festive kick-about and their hosts taught their guests to “dance the Syrian way” to a drumbeat and singing.
“The presenters and families bonded, singing and dancing, as old friends,” Johnny says. The mood of friendship and love, given and received, was unmistakeable for the team and viewers alike: “We experienced a true family atmosphere where we talked and sang about the goodness of God and hope for a better future.”
Below: Rawad and Karen (on the right) learn how to dance the Syrian way