From Dream to Reality: celebrating the Fadaii community center inauguration
On July 5th, I traveled to the beautiful Marjayoun valley, in southern Lebanon, to attend the inauguration of the Fadaii Center, which brought together donors, religious and political authorities, staff, and community members. Fadaii is a community center without barriers, where Lebanese and Syrian children, teenagers, and adults can participate in educational and recreational activities and professional training in an area that for many years has experiences conflicts and crises. Throughout the day, I witnessed the passion and care that AVSI has for the people in Marjayoun, which was cemented by the opening of the Fadaii Community Center.
AVSI’s achievements, however, would not be possible without its incredible supporters, whose passion continuously inspires our work. Driving from Beirut to Marjayoun on the morning of the event, I met some donors who have substantially contributed to the construction of the Fadaii Center. One group drew my attention. This trip was especially meaningful to them because a member of their family, who supported and believed in the project, tragically died last year. To continue his legacy, they continued donating and organized fundraisers in his honor. A symbolic gesture became the beginning of a beautiful relationship and an inspiring openness to the world. As we got closer to our destination, they started naming all the staff and partners they had met last year during their first field trip to Marjayoun, they looked forward to reconnecting and learning how they had been doing. Indeed, our arrival at the center was a joyful reunion for many people who, scattered around Lebanon and in Italy, had been working on the project.
As the ceremony started, I could sense the excitement around me and the deep gratitude for this day, as it marked a new path full of hope for people that live in the region. Giampaolo Silvestri, AVSI Secretary General, and Marina Molino Lova, AVSI Lebanon Country Representative, remarked what an important achievement the completion of the center was as we persisted through the pandemic, Lebanon’s economic crisis, and the explosion at the port of Beirut.
Juan Carlos Semaan, who used to be a beneficiary of DSP in his youth and now volunteers for AVSI, was invited to share his experience. “AVSI accompanied me and continues to do so. These days, I’m participating in the Summer Camp with two Italian footballers from the Italian Footballers’ Association. I’m training to become a coach myself. I’m glad there will be a space for us young people to meet and learn. Many of us dream of leaving here, but today we have one more reason to try and stay.”
Local authorities thanked AVSI for its steady presence in the valley and commitment to helping the most vulnerable. One sentence moved me the most. The Archbishop of Tyre, thanking us, said, “AVSI is like a river that with its waters has brought new life to the valley of Marjayoun.” And, indeed, all around me, I saw an explosion of beauty and life during the day.
After the speeches, guests were invited to walk around the center and attend a banquet. As I peeked into the different rooms, I was constantly captivated by the view of the valley before me. But what made me truly understand the value of this place was meeting one of the educators from the Italian Footballers Association, whose mission is to promote social cohesion through soccer. As he shared his experience, he told me
that thanks to his missions with AVSI he understood the deep meaning of his work. In a place where people struggle to make ends meet and are constantly threatened due to tensions along the border, children deeply cherish sports as an activity where they can express themselves and spend time with their friends. No ambition, no tension, just the desire to play freely for a few hours and deep gratitude for being there.
At the end of the ceremony, we joined a soccer practice, one of the activities that will soon be coordinated from the Fadai Center. UN peacekeepers, who have been patrolling the area for decades, attended the inauguration ceremony, but I was not expecting to see them on the fields. The sight of soldiers, a symbol of war and fear, standing next to children playing sports struck me, so I asked AVSI’s Country Representative whether their presence was purely related to the area’s instability. She explained that AVSI has been involving soldiers in their sports activities so that they too may have a good time and create a more peaceful and trusting environment for children, who feel less threatened by their sight. And indeed, it worked, as we took our shoes off and stood in line for a speed exercise, I forgot for a minute where I was, I could only see kids and adults cheering for their team and exchanging high fives.
The Fadaii Center will soon welcome 1,300 children and their families, both Lebanese and Syrian, who participate in the Distance Support Program. In Lebanon, the program’s activities mainly focus on educational reinforcement and aim to make up for the lost school years due to the pandemic and the subsequent school shutdowns. They also address the psychosocial difficulties that children and women, in particular, face through group discussions with the help of psychologists. Additionally, the center will host sports and recreational activities, as well as training courses for adults in agriculture and food processing, and – for the first time in Marjayoun – courses in accounting, digital literacy, and quality control.
– Cecilia Tresoldi