from the world of CNEWA

by Diane Handal

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Elias Kayrouz

While reporting on the work of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Lebanon, writer Diane Handal spoke to one Lebanese Maronite villager who volunteers with the sisters to help Syrian refugees, most of whom are Muslim. Elias Kayrouz offered his perspective on life from his village in the Bekaa Valley, from Lebanon’s civil war to Syria’s.

ONE: Tell us a little about yourself.

EK: I am 40 years old. I was born in Bechouat. I am a Maronite Christian.

I studied until fifth grade, and then I started farming lentils, tobacco and wheat. I worked as a tobacco farmer until two and a half years ago.

My mother lives here. My father is dead. We had five boys and six girls in our family.

My sister who owned a restaurant passed away and now her children and her husband run it. I helped them in the café before, but less now — only when they need the help.

ONE: When did you get involved in volunteering with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd? How did you learn about their work?

EK: I met the sisters two and a half years ago. My neighbor Yusuf was volunteering at the school and introduced me to them.

About the same time, the war in Syria had started, so there was a need for more volunteers.

ONE: Do you work elsewhere?

EK: Yes, I work as a doorman and security guard at a local high school in the afternoon.

ONE: Could you tell me a little about your childhood that inspired you to help others?

EK: I grew up hearing stories about my father and grandfather helping the hungry and the poor people for years from wars. It left an impression, and now I’m carrying on that tradition.

ONE: Was there anything growing up in Bechouat during the civil war that shaped your feelings toward people of different religions?

EK: I grew up in a Christian village and saw the civil war in Lebanon, the hatred and violence between the Muslim and Christian people. It came from the differentiation of sects and religions, and watching it taught us not to differentiate — to be open to seeing one another as human beings. We learned to understand what others are going through, regardless of background.

ONE: Did you have any Muslim neighbors before the war started?

EK: Before, there were only Maronite Christians. The only others were Syrian workers, migrant farmers who would visit for a season at a time.

ONE: What has your work as a volunteer working with Syrian refugees taught you?

EK: Through working with the Syrian refugees, I have come to know hardship. Some of them say: “You can’t help us; we need more.” That makes me feel down — even frustrated — but at the end of the day, you can only do so much.

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