Welcome to The Deipara Initiative!
My first visit to Dbayeh Camp was during Holy Week in 2011. In the preceeding two decades, I had spent plenty of time in other Palestinian refugee camps, but never set foot in Dbayeh. Even in the marginalized and isolated archipelago of the Palestinian refugee camps, Dbayeh is particularly marginal and isolated. It is the last remaining Christian Palestinian refugee camp. As such, it is fully part of the Palestinian refugee crisis writ large, but also subject to unique challenges and problems.
With the arrival of refugees fleeing the war in Syria, Dbayeh Camp is overwhelmed. As in all the other camps, chronic diseases, unemployment, poverty, and hopelessness are the order of the day, with no prospects of justice or redress. Unlike the other camps, there is virtually no outside interest in Dbayeh and, for a complex series of reasons, Dbayeh's residents lack many of the basic services available in the larger camps.
I cannot recall what I had expected from that visit in during Holy Week of 2011, but I was blown away by the sense of joy and hope that I encountered. Despite decades of living on the margins of society, displaced from their homes and forgotten by the world, the people of Dbayeh had lost neither their humanity nor their dignity – nor their hope for a better future.
© Johanna Mifsud Photography
Very quickly, it became evident that the Little Sisters of Nazareth, who have lived with, and served the people of Dbayeh every single day since their arrival in 1987, are integral to the spirit of the camp. Members of a Belgian order of nuns seeking to live the charism of Brother Charles de Foucauld, the sisters' lives are framed by simplicity, love, and service. Aid agencies have come and left, but neither severe budget constraints nor sectarian politics or civil war have been able to force out the Little Sisters. Their service to the poorest of the poor is a witness of love to those who need it the most, in a world that desperately needs to learn the ways of mercy and compassion.
On an insecure shoestring budget, the three sisters who live in the camp seek to provide not only a loving presence, but basic health services and subsidized medical visits. To the poorest residents, they also seek to provide food rations, as well as tuition and school books for their children, bus fair to get them to school, and help with homework. "They are saints walking among us," one resident said. "They are the mother and father of the camp."
The Deipara Initiative is a vehicle for supporting the work of the Little Sisters in Dbayeh; an effort to raise funds, to raise awareness, and to promote ecumenical as well as interfaith dialogue in support of their work in the camp. It is a network of solidarity and peace promotion at the grassroots level. It is an effort to serve those who serve; to connect and enable all who find inspiration in Brother Charles' desire to be a "universal brother" to all, especially the most marginalized.
Please use this site (which is under construction, so check back regularly) to learn about the Little Sisters in Dbayeh, the camp, its people, and the ongoing refugee crises – Palestinian and Syrian – of which they are a part. If you are moved to support the Little Sisters' work, you can use this site to do so. Be sure to check out The Spero Collaborative (of which The Deipara Initiative is a part) for other ideas, possiblities, and hope-building projects and partners around the world. Wherever you go from here, welcome!