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Winter 2007 Vol. V, No. 2

Beyond These Gates

AUB’s mission is to serve the peoples of the Middle East and beyond. It does this in many ways: it is an institution of higher learning; it participates in the advancement of knowledge through research, and it sponsors intellectual debates and cultural activities on campus, many of which are open to the public. There are many other ways in which AUB (its students, faculty, and staff) interacts with the community. In the pages that follow, we will introduce you to some of the people who are involved with these projects and let you hear from them about the projects themselves.

You will read about a volunteer clinic, the AUB Museum, an oral history project, a student club, business development centers, a reconstruction project in south Lebanon, and much more. There are also many wonderful “good works” projects that you won’t read about. They too should be included in these pages, but we simply ran out of space. We hope, however, that the project profiles that are included below will leave you with a greater appreciation of the many ways in which AUB engages with the community beyond its gates.

Contributors: Dina Abou-Salem, Jean-Marie Cook, Susanne Lane

Who: Alia Al Zougbi, former student (BA Sociology ’01; MA Anthropology ’04)
What: MedVoices Beirut
Where: Beirut

I was discussing my MA dissertation (an exploration of the history of Ras Beirut) with Professor Samir Khalaf when I first heard about the MedVoices Beirut project in the summer of 2002. Because the MedVoices project provided a network of support, advice, and guidance from a number of experts in the field of oral history, it was an ideal opportunity for me.

Even though my colleague Susanne Abou Ghaida and I conducted these interviews more than two years ago, I still remember the faces, the voices, and the memories of the people we spoke to so clearly. It was very interesting and at times we were surprised by what we learned. Some people were nostalgic for rural Ras Beirut, a Beirut that was more of a wilderness that extended to the rocky coast. For others, their fondest memories were for the urban boom—a time when intellectuals and artists from around the Arab world gathered at sidewalk cafes on Hamra Street. There was even an ambivalent nostalgia for the civil war and for a time when Ras Beirut seemed more like a village.

Capturing and documenting these voices—the voices of the people who live in our community—is so important. These people and their histories are a part of our history—our “intangible heritage”—that would otherwise be lost. There were 13 partner cities across the Mediterranean involved in the MedVoices project. As a result of the interviews that were conducted, we have uncovered an alternative view of history. This often happens as a result of oral history research, which focuses on capturing voices that are too often neglected or not heard.

"As a result of the interviews… we have uncovered an alternative view of history.”

Who: Joanna Khalil, former student (BS Nutrition and Dietetics ’02, MPH - Health Behavior & Education ’05) and research assistant
What: Urban Health Study
Where: Hay El-Sellom, Nabaa, and Burj El-Barajneh Camp, outside Beirut

In spring 2002, with support from the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom, the Center

for Research on Population and Health (CRPH) at the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) launched a study to examine the social context of health and to provide policy-relevant analysis of the health consequences of population changes in three neighborhoods in the outskirts of Beirut.

More than a dozen AUB faculty members have been involved in the study. We have interviewed approximately 3,000 families living in Hay El-Sellom, Nabaa, and Burj El-Barajneh Camp. I got involved in 2005 as an FHS student and member of CRPH’s Women and Reproductive Health Group, which is one of the four research teams involved in this study. Based on what we have learned, we are planning a psychosocial intervention to improve the lives of married women living in one of the neighborhoods, primarily in areas related to reproductive and mental health. We will be bringing together women from the neighborhood and engaging them in relaxation exercises and discussion groups.

I have really been struck by the deprivation that I have seen. For example, Hay El-Sellom, which is identified on official maps as “olive groves”, is actually the place where an estimated 100,000 people live! It is home for many Lebanese citizens who moved to the southern suburbs of Beirut during the years of the civil war.

To ensure effective community involvement from the beginning, we spent six months in Hay El-Sellom building partnerships with residents and key people in the community. This sustained contact has given us a more nuanced understanding of the community and supplemented the survey data. We captured a lot of information when we administered a general household questionnaire and then surveyed the elderly, adolescents, and women about reproductive health and occupational issues. We want to address the needs and views of the women themselves and ensure that this intervention is sustained and even increased, not just in this community, but in other places as well.

"I have really been struck by the deprivation that I have seen."

Who: Amali Saab, current student (BSN ’07)
What: Community Nursing, School of Nursing
Where: Beirut

As community health nurses, we work in many areas. We work in the community—in schools, in offices, in community clinics—where we have opportunities that we would not have in a hospital. For instance, a nurse working in an occupational setting is in a position to notice things that could be done to enhance safety in the workplace. In this way, you could actually be preventing an accident from happening. You would also be having a positive impact on productivity and employees’ well being.

In a healthcare agency, like an outpatient clinic, the community nurse can promote healthy lifestyle habits by educating patients about what they can do to prevent disease and to improve their own health. I like the idea of having the opportunity to prevent disease!

It is the community nurse who conducts “house calls” and takes care of a lot of follow-up.

I think I’d like to work in community health nursing after I graduate, particularly in a healthcare agency. I would enjoy working with people of all ages and from all backgrounds, to educate them about how to deal with their illnesses whether chronic or acute.

"I like the idea of having the opportunity to prevent disease!"

Who: Zeina Abdallah, volunteer and current student (BA PSPA ’08)
What: Volunteer Outreach Clinic
Where: Beirut

The Volunteer Outreach Clinic (VOC) was established in October 2001 by a group of volunteers (three medical students, an engineering student, and a journalist). At the time, I was working at the AUB Medical Center (AUBMC). I heard about the project and have been involved ever since. I believe in this project and totally support its objective: to help those who lack one of the basic requirements for a decent living—adequate healthcare.

The VOC depends on support from many NGOs and some anonymous donors. Although we are grateful for the support we have already received, we are always fundraising and looking for volunteers.

This is an organization that depends on volunteers—volunteers from many different fields such as medicine and pharmacy and from different universities, not just AUB. The clinic is open every Saturday from 10 am until 2 pm. We see an average of 25 patients a day. Most of our patients are people who live in the neighborhood, although others travel great distances to take advantage of our services. The VOC provides primary critical healthcare for people who need it, who depend on us. All of the clinic’s services are provided for free. Volunteers evaluate the patients, give them appropriate medication, refer them to AUBMC or to specialty clinics (if needed), and do lab studies—also if needed.

I’m the treasurer and take care of all the administrative and clerical work. On Saturdays, I schedule patients and try to keep things running smoothly at the clinic. I also help organize our fundraising events.

"I believe in this project: to help those who lack one of the basic requirements for a decent living—adequate healthcare."

Who: Celine Stephan, current student (BArch ’08)
What: Saving the Heritage of South Lebanon
Where: Bint Jbeil, south Lebanon

I am a fourth year architecture student at AUB. Usually 3rd and 4th year students take design studios together and are involved in one project in which each student works on a comprehensive design intervention to be handed in at the end of the semester. Seventeen of us are involved in the Bint Jbeil reconstruction project that deals with issues such as place, memory, and identity.

Bint Jbeil is an old town in south Lebanon, just three kilometers from the border, which has suffered a lot over the years and was especially hard hit during the war this past summer. Many residences, commercial spaces, and a big part of the city’s urban fabric were destroyed. We are trying to figure out which parts of the city should be rehabilitated, should be saved—and to suggest ways that this should be done.

You have to start by analyzing—by understanding—not just the architecture of the city that used to exist but also the social, political, and economic life of the city. You need to understand how people lived in that city. You have to understand their lives. Doing this in Bint Jbeil—a place that was hit so hard during the war—has been extraordinary. Walking the streets of Bint Jbeil, I find that I am unable to approach some of the people who live there and have lived through so much violence and death, and who have watched others die. One guy came up to me and begged me to take pictures of the destruction and to report what I was really seeing with my two eyes. Many people asked us why we were there, what we were doing, and who we were. We sat with them and explained.

One time when we were doing this, a lady dressed and veiled in black passed by on the other side of the street. “Her name is Karma,” they explained, “she lost her entire family, 11 people killed, she is the only one remaining.” We followed her down the street. We had to speed up to catch her. She stopped and confronted us, wanting to know who we were. We explained that we were AUB students, that we were asking everybody about what happened, asking them to share their stories, that we wanted to understand what the destruction had done to town life, how fear had invaded people’s spaces and their intimate village life. She started wailing, her face turned yellow, and was covered with tears. Her pain cut through us. Her tears kept coming. Standing in front of her, we didn’t know how to react and felt guilty that we had revived these memories. I put my arm around her shoulder and whispered to her, “I’m sorry… May God protect you…”

Slowly, when she could speak again, she turned to us: “I can’t even find the houses where my family lived anymore.” She explained how the village had been transformed dramatically from a street/ building typology to a more scrambled and twisted one. She talked to me about how people used to live, how neighbors used to interact, how children used to play together… She also described the Thursday market that used to take place in the old town of Bint Jbeil and is now taking place in the new part that was less damaged by the Israeli air strikes. This social life was so important in Bint Jbeil, she said. Buses filled with people used to come here. Everyone took part in the social activities that meant so much for everyone: people with things to sell, shop owners, customers, visitors, and most especially the inhabitants of Bint Jbeil. “We were so proud of our town,” she said. “We used to say—Bint Jbeil is the center of the world.”

This is our challenge: to reconstruct this city so that it works for those who live there now while at the same time protecting the urban and architectural heritage of the city that is threatened by demolition. We think this can be done but to do so you need to engage with the people who live there, to listen to them, and to hear their stories.

“We used to say—Bint Jbeil is the center of the world.”

Who: Rola Yasmine, current student (BSN ’07)
What: Community Nursing, School of Nursing
Where: Ataya New School, Beirut

I would like to be the missing link between the patient’s discharge to his home and his re-entry into the hospital. The hospitals in Lebanon are good but often there is no proper follow-up, no home visitations to assess compliance with the “doctor’s orders,” so the patient ends up back at the hospital.

Of course, community health nurses do much more than ensure that patients don’t need to return to the hospital. We work in communities—in schools and community health centers for example—to promote healthy lifestyles. I am currently working at the Ataya New School in Beirut where I am taking care of annual screenings for children, making referrals to parents if necessary, putting together medical records for the kids, etc. During the war in July, many nursing students were involved in volunteer efforts. That was community nursing too.

Not everyone wants to work in community nursing. You need to be prepared to take decisions independently, be able to solve complex health problems, and be a self-starter. You need to know a lot before going on these home visits. You’re not in a fixed environment within a health institution. You need to be well trained and have some experience before you can become a community health nurse.

I give a lot of credit to our professors—people like Professor Arevian. They do a great job not just in teaching you what you need to know but also in transmitting their enthusiasm about community nursing, about sharing with you their excitement about the critically important role that community health nurses play in a community.

“We try to reach different groups in society by involving students in activities like social work, conflict resolution workshops, and human rights awareness campaigns…”

Who: Iman Nuwayhid, associate dean, FHS, principal investigator
What: Understanding Water, Understanding Health: The Case of Bebnine
Where: Bebnine, a coastal town between Tripoli and the Syrian border—and AUB


Our research is centered in Bebnine, a town of 15,000 residents in Akkar. In 2003, a group of researchers from the Interfaculty Graduate Environmental Sciences Program began working there because the municipality and many people were concerned about the quality of water and its impact on their health. Since then, six AUB faculty researchers and a handful of graduate students have been working with the municipal council, an advisory board, and some local physicians, teachers, and school principals who are invited to participate in our discussions. I lead the effort, which is funded by the Canadian International Development Research Centre, because the focus is on health. We jointly defined the project and developed its elements.

We have monitored Bebnine’s different water supplies (more than 20 source points) for the last 18 months on a monthly basis. We conducted a door-to-door survey of all households (about 2,400) and developed a complete digital map of the town. When we found that a major well was heavily contaminated, the municipality was reluctant to install a filter for fear of complaints from other neighborhoods, but our powerful evidence persuaded them. We donated the system, and they installed it.

We also investigated people’s reluctance to connect to the new water network. Most resist because of the cost of connecting; some lack trust in a central system; others are simply used to the old system. We argue that the new system could save money if they figure in the cost of water-related diseases, illnesses, and lost work days.

I enjoy this kind of meaningful, community-focused research. We listen, promote awareness, and aim at empowering the community by building its capacity.

Who: Marjorie Henningsen, assistant professor of education, director, Science and Math Education Center (SMEC)
What:
Annual Science, Math, and Technology Fair
Where: AUB campus


For 13 years SMEC has reached out to schools all over Lebanon through its annual Science, Math, and Technology Fair, an event that engages students from schools around the country in extracurricular science activities. It also provides a forum for students to share their work with students from other schools.
The fair is cosponsored by SMEC and the Education Student Society (ESS). It is a self-supporting project: schools pay to participate. A maximum number of 25 schools send children from kindergarten through grade 12. An average of 400-500 kids, parents, and members from the AUB community attend the fair. We also get a lot of help from AUB faculty and education graduate students who participate as judges.

I have been involved in the fair for six years. I feel an obligation as an education faculty member to participate in such events. As educators, we need to interact with the larger community of teachers and students.

Last year was particularly gratifying for me. It felt great to witness the increase in the number of female participants. It made me happy to see a large number of girls winning who had produced excellent projects.

I hope that our criteria for participation in the fair will have some effect on how students and teachers prepare for projects back at their schools. That way, students can move away from memorization of material and start generating their own questions and investigating them. It will help them develop critical analytic and scientific skills. In the long run, I hope their participation helps students rise above the average and makes them good critical thinkers in the future.

“I hope their participation helps students rise above the average and makes them good critical thinkers in the future.”

Who: Jacqueline Ayoub, trip organizer
What: Society of the Friends of the AUB Museum
Where: Beirut, the region, and worldwide


I first got involved with the Society of the Friends of the AUB Museum as a result of a trip that the society organized to Tunisia in 1994. In June 2000, I was asked to replace Mrs. Maud Khayat as trip organizer. I hesitated at first because it is a heavy responsibility. It can be quite difficult to please each and every person even though we are quite a homogeneous group, but I decided to take on this challenge.

The first trip I organized was to Vietnam. This was a challenge because the country had just opened for tourism and, as I discovered while doing research on the internet, it was an area plagued by many diseases. But, we went and were so surprised by the beauty of the country and its people. Another difficult—and wonderful—trip was the one we took to Ethiopia on the occasion of the Timkat Feast (Epiphany). It was really amazing. It felt like we were traveling through time because we came face to face with the Middle Ages and ancestral religious customs that are being practiced by the people who live there now.

The Society of the Friends of the AUB Museum is the only group in Lebanon that offers these types of cultural trips to unusual destinations. Whenever we can, we arrange to have an expert who knows the history and culture travel with us. Of course, the museum and the society sponsor many other activities about archaeology for the community, such as lectures, programs for children, and the newsletter. In fact, the museum itself is in many ways a gift to the community. It is such a treasure and especially beautiful now since its renovation.

Who: Raja Tannous, FAFS professor and principal investigator
What: Business Development Center (BDC)
Where: Beka’a Valley


In the Beka’a, we are setting up one of four Business Development Centers (incubators) to support Lebanon’s agro-economy sector (agro-food industry, agri-business, agro-tourism, and other businesses). I became involved in this project because I have always believed, while doing my professional work at AUB, in extending services to the community. In the past, with others, I helped bring our dieticians to local hospitals; food scientists to serve the agro-food industries; built community services at AREC (the Agricultural Research and Education Center) such as a creamery and a new food processing pilot plant; and established the Lebanese Association of Food Scientists and Technologists.

Participants in the incubators will be Lebanese graduates, individuals returning from study abroad, those already engaged in start-up business projects, and innovative young entrepreneurs. They could be company managers, farmers, food processors, exporters, food caterers, and IT engineers. We want to get some brain gain out of the brain drain.

We hope to generate successful companies and speed their growth by providing them with a variety of business support resources to guarantee financially viable and freestanding businesses. Recent graduates and executives will be encouraged to set up their own companies.

The project is operated jointly by AUB, St. Joseph University, and Al-Wafik, an NGO. Our financial support comes from a grant that the European Union has made to the Lebanese Government’s Ministry of Economy and Trade, and our human support from a number of experts and consultants who provide professional services.

In the short term, we hope to develop 30 new businesses during the coming year, but in the future we envision ongoing assistance for new businesses to contribute to the continuing economic growth of the country.

Who: Leila Iliya, president, Women’s Auxiliary
What: Women’s Auxiliary Nabila Firzli Emergency Fund
Where: Women’s Auxiliary Office, behind the Women’s Auxiliary Coffee Shop, at AUBMC


The Nabila Firzli Emergency Fund is funded in large part by the Women’s Auxiliary Coffee Shop. When Nabila Firzli was president, she began looking for new ways to use our profits. In those days we used to provide TV sets and other material things for the hospital, but Nabila wanted to do more, to help the patients themselves.

Eventually she proposed to the 12-member board of the 70-member auxiliary the establishment of a special fund to help the very neediest patients financially. We finally agreed on 50 million Lebanese pounds (about $35,000), and the establishment of the fund was announced at our 50th anniversary celebration in 2000. The board agreed to name the fund after Nabila.

We help about 400 patients a year—very, very needy patients who come to the ER. Many are later admitted to the hospital.

The money for the fund comes from Coffee Shop profits, money from hospital coffee machines (given to us by the hospital administration), and a yearly fundraising activity: a brunch, a fashion show, a bridge party, or a lunch. Friends give us donations too. Once a member’s dentist husband happened to mention (anonymously, of course—we never use names) a case to a patient who immediately wrote a check for $10,000 to help a 13 year-old girl who needed spinal surgery. We donate, on average, 40 million Lebanese pounds per year.

We are hoping the work will go on and on, that we will continue to develop bonds between AUH and the community of patients we serve.

“We help about 400 patients a year—very, very needy patients who come to the ER.”

Who: Marwa Abou Dayya (MA Public Administration ’08), member and past president
What: AUB UNESCO Club
Where: AUB- both on and off campus


I joined the club in 2004 because I was interested in the type of work it does and I thought it was important to support its mission. The UNESCO Club was founded seven years ago to encourage understanding through cultural, social, and educational activities. We try to reach different groups in society by involving students in activities like social work, conflict resolution workshops, human rights awareness campaigns, and by encouraging people to recognize and talk about ethnic and religious differences. We have 25-30 active members.

Last year we held a book donation campaign that benefited the House of Elderly and Disabled. That was one of my best memories of my involvement with the club. It was touching to see how happy they were to receive these books, knowing that someone still cares, knows that you’re there, and wants to help. It was so rewarding to see that you can actually draw a smile on the face of someone who is three years old, or seventy years old. At that moment, I really felt our message and mission at the UNESCO Club was being delivered.

I believe that the club will keep on carrying this message in the coming years. Having freshman and sophomore students joining the club reassures me that it will remain active and dedicated to a good cause.

Who: Hassan Diab, professor of electrical and computer engineering; vice president for Regional External Programs (REP)
What: Founding Dhofar University
Where: Dhofar, Sultanate of Oman


REP has been involved in the establishment of Dhofar University (DU) in the Sultanate of Oman since the project was launched in August 2004. We provided help in developing its structure as a university with numerous operating faculties and administrative units.

I have been involved in REP-related projects for many years and took over as VP for REP on October 1, 2006. Assisting in the founding of DU was a rejuvenating and challenging job. Despite the fact that we were building a university using AUB as a benchmark, there were many decisions to be made, keeping in mind the social and cultural norms as well as the needs of the country. DU is dedicated to excellence in higher education benchmarked against international standards, coupled with relevance to local needs—both present and emerging. A diverse AUB team of 26 members led by former REP Vice President George Najjar participated in the project. Because DU is in Salalah, the district’s inhabitants now have the opportunity to pursue higher education close to home. It fills other gaps as well. The university’s influence has been felt strongly in the Salalah community. It provides quality higher education in a region where institutes of higher learning are scarce. In the long term, I expect we will witness significant development in the community as a result of the presence of an educated local population. DU has already earned a reputation among private universities in the region.

REP has extensive experience in assisting with the establishment and operation of a large number of academic and non-academic institutions in Lebanon and the region.

Who: Christiane Makarem, Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon (CCCL), director of volunteers
What: CCCL Volunteer Unit
Where: St. Jude Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon, AUBMC


When I came back to Lebanon after 17 years in England, I looked around for something to do.

I’ve always loved children, so I volunteered at the Children’s Cancer Center in late October 2002. I became director that November. We now have some 60-70 volunteers, almost 95 percent from universities, most from AUB, who give a minimum of two hours per week, playing with the children and keeping them happy while they wait for blood tests, treatment, and doctors.

When I started, I realized the children needed the chance to play; we also entertain them with concerts and musicians. Last year we even had the Bustan Festival Prague Choir. We bring puppeteers; we bring magicians.

Later I realized the children also need to continue their education—just like normal children. Our teachers, especially volunteers such as Hassan Daouk, run our two-year old education program. We started with the older children, who have official exams, and now we teach even the very young ones.

The volunteers receive no special funding, but we receive cash donations and also toys, books, pencils, and crayons. We are supported by everyone—the management, the Board of Trustees of the CCCL, doctors, nurses, and the Ministry of Education.

The volunteers help the whole community by demystifying the illness. At the beginning, some of the parents almost don’t dare touch the child. Then they see the young volunteers treating the children totally normally, and that’s a big accomplishment. The volunteers are not heroes; they are exceptional young men and women who give their time and affection to the children... I think the children are the heroes. They are amazing. The children have a wisdom that we lose with time.

Who: Jala Makhzoumi, associate professor, Plant Sciences, and member of the project team
What: IBSAR: A Holistic Landscape Approach to Biodiversity Use in Lebanon: Partnering with Landowners.
Where: Deir Nbouh, north of Zgharta


Wassim Ezzedine, a friend of AUB and an alumni parent, approached the Initiative for Biodiversity Studies in Arid Regions (IBSAR) in early 2004 asking for a proposal to develop 140 hectares that he owns in the foothills above Zgharta. Ezzedine’s aim was to do something that would benefit the local community while at the same time ensuring the sustainable development of the environment and its natural resources.

I was a member of an interdisciplinary team of IBSAR academics and professionals that developed a proposal for a holistic, multifaceted, and community inclusive three-year project that Ezzedine approved in March 2004. The goals of the project are to contribute to local livelihoods and private agri-businesses in marginal landscapes; to encourage the sustainable use of native plans and natural resources; to protect and revive traditional rural landscapes and vernacular rural practices; and to promote local awareness of biodiversity and the sustainable utilization of natural resources.

As a landscape architect, participation in the project has been rewarding because of the opportunity to apply a holistic, ‘landscape’ approach to biodiversity and rural development, which is new to Lebanon. There has been a recent surge in nature-related tourism in mountain landscapes in Lebanon. Although commercially viable, tourism needs to be complemented with initiatives like the one IBSAR developed that aims to revive traditional agricultural practices while preserving the natural and rural landscapes. I believe IBSAR’s project at Deir Nbouh can serve as a successful model for rural development in marginal areas of Lebanon, one that is responsive to the natural and cultural heritage.

Who: Professor Mounir Mabsout, former chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, founder of the CE Volunteer Camp
What: CE Volunteer Camp
Where: Mishmish, Akkar


Last year’s CE Volunteer Camp was a pilot experiment–a modest effort to encourage students to dedicate themselves to public service for eight full days in June 2006. The camp was located in the Akkar. A group of our civil engineering students stayed in the community of Mishmish, where they helped people with civil works (namely construction) projects. Fifteen AUB students were at the site for the whole period. Dr. Salah Sadek (who is the advisor of the Civil Engineering Society) and I went a couple of times to oversee their work. What made this such a memorable experience for me was its true success. All the people involved–whether they were students or villagers–were very receptive despite their differences. The interaction between them was great!

The mission of civil engineering is inherently related to people’s lives and this project helps to fulfill that mission. Working in Mishmish gave our students an experience of a different kind. Most of the time they train in companies that are well funded, but it is seldom that they get involved in a volunteer project at a disadvantaged site. The students also volunteered to tutor Mishmish students for their official government Brevet exam, at the request of the municipality. AUB students also teamed with a group of village scouts to clean up the forest around Mishmish. I initiated this project because I am always looking for ways to involve students in real life projects, something different than the theory we cover in classes.

Many students are planning to join next year’s initiative. With more volunteers, we’ll be able to assist in more reconstruction and environmental projects—two areas in which there is a lot of work that needs to be done in Lebanon.

The CE Volunteer Camp is a joint initiative by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at AUB through the Civil Engineering Society (CES) and the Economic and Social Fund for Development at the Council for Development and Reconstruction (ESFD/CDR).