Mira Kaldany, a 25-year-old woman from Lebanon, has been volunteering at CNEWA’s New York offices while visiting the United States. As she prepares to return to her homeland, we invited her to write about her background and her experience.
Lebanon was always a country of emigrants, where young people leave in order to find better job opportunities in Europe and in North America. Growing up in Lebanon, you learn to adapt to difficult circumstances and instabilities. You live your day-to-day life without much hope for the future or any long term plans.
Lebanon has always been a host country for large proportions of refugees — from Palestinians to Iraqis, and now Syrians. The Syrian crisis has affected the country socially, economically and politically. Today over one million Syrian refugees live in Lebanon. The support of the international community is absolutely critical for the vitality of this small country.
A little about my background: I was raised Maronite Catholic and have always been committed to my Maronite identity. The Maronites are considered the second-largest Christian community in the Middle East — after the Copts of Egypt — and are the biggest Christian community in Lebanon. In my college years, I studied political science and public administration at Saint Joseph University in Beirut. During my undergraduate studies I was fortunate to work as an intern in several U.N. agencies and international nongovernmental organizations.
After my studies, I worked as a caseworker in Beirut for almost two years with International Catholic Migration Commission, where I used to counsel refugees in order to resettle them to the United States. Case working demands a great deal of patience, tolerance, and compassion. You interact daily with people who have lost everything, from their family to their home to their country. I used to work directly with refugees coming from Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, and Syria. Despite the gratitude of helping the refuges, hearing stories about rape, torture, kidnapping and mass murder also took an emotional toll.
Last summer, I had an opportunity to visit the United States for several months. In January 2014, I was introduced to CNEWA by the chairperson of Education and Opportunities for Lebanon — an organization that sponsors students and school projects in Lebanon, through CNEWA. Shortly after that, I started volunteering at CNEWA’s New York headquarters, working with the fundraising team.
I was particularly interested in volunteering because it is committed to reaching out to those who suffer all over the world. By volunteering with CNEWA, I hope I can make a positive contribution with my humanitarian background and my commitment to helping underserved populations.
My experience with those populations and with refugees has transformed my life. I remember the words of an Iraqi refugee I interviewed many months ago in Lebanon. She said: “Yes, I hope to God I will start a new life. I will never forget my past, or my husband, but I will try to start a new life, without looking back too much.” This woman who lost her husband and home in Iraq still has the strength to keep moving forward.
I am blessed to volunteer for an organization that strives to help people like this every day.