Under the scorching sun in the small courtyard of Saint Joseph school in Tyre, unlikely laborers, in grey T-shirts and navy blue shorts are hard at work scraping, sanding, priming and painting to restore the school façade’s luster and sheen with contrasting tones of cream and dark brown.
The laborers are AUB students volunteering their time in remote areas to help improve aspects of people’s lives, from sprucing up playgrounds, to painting welcome village signs, to building roundabouts.
Wearing a reversed baseball cap and standing halfway on a ladder, one girl scraped the old paint from a column. Despite the enthusiasm on her face, it was obvious that the late morning sun and heat have had already taken their toll on her, evident from her tired hand movements.
“I enjoy working under the sun and heat, and despite the exhaustion it is fun for me to scrape and paint, as I love productivity and community service,” said May Achour, a political science senior, and a first-time volunteer whose only regret was not having volunteered last year. “It is also a great opportunity to meet new people and make friends, and I am definitely coming back next year.”
Achour was among 90 AUB volunteers who joined a nine-day volunteer camp August 21-29, organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (formerly, the Civil Engineering Society) in collaboration with the University Student Faculty Committee and with the support of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture and Student Affairs as well as other private sponsors, for the ninth year in a row.
Volunteer teams, from engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, and other departments, were distributed among several projects in Beflay, Mansouri, Jbeil al-Battem, and Tyre.
Aside from painting the classrooms and desks, a couple of students, out of the 18 assigned to this location, also provided computer literacy lessons consisting of programming and typing lessons.
“This year, our sponsors put up nearly half of the costs by covering expenses, providing products and/or other services, and we welcome any additional sponsors for next year,” said camp coordinator Nihal Abu Ghali, an engineering management graduate.
In the village of Mansouri, near Tyre, another group of volunteers was roller-painting the façade of the Mosque’s Husseiniyye gathering center, while others were preparing to paint some conceptual writings and graphics on the 75 meter cemetery wall which they had just finished restoring and painting.
“The locals were very welcoming and helpful, showing and teaching us the techniques needed to restore the wall as no one in our group had any previous knowhow or experience,” said Rawwad Mallak, third-year year civil engineering.
The conceptual design, prepared by Diana Etawi, a graphic design senior, will see the words ‘Mansouri Welcomes You’ in Arabic cut in half lengthwise, and a few icons of mosques, to convey the meaning of being here and not being here at the same time.
“The repetitive, geometric and minimalistic design, using bluish purple, pink and normal green, is meant to respect the local community culture in a beautiful manner while at the same time giving it a less gloomy outlook,” said Etawi.
A bit further on, in the village of Jbeil El Battem, the sight of heavy axes, hammers, spades and broken rocks could be directly construed as a scene from a chain gang doing hard labor if it weren’t for the friendly students chatting amicably and just about to go on their lunch break.
“It is a simple but physically very challenging and tough work,” said Mahmoud Kobeissi, second-year civil engineering, working on a rock wall for the newly finished Nabih Berri sports playgrounds for the village and surrounding villages. “This wall is meant to protect the playfields from rainwater and avoid flooding like it happened in other villages in the region.”
Kobesissi explained how his team was mostly composed of males as their workload included lots of physical exertion and heavy rock lifting, pointing out that you had to hit the rocks at certain points and angles to get them to crack or else all the efforts of hammering would go to waste.
“It is a very hard and time consuming process just to build a few meters of wall,” he added. “But everyone is loving it!”
The last stop was the village of Beflay, where the volunteers had painted the sidewalk stones in alternating colors of black and white, as well as a metallic fence, which the municipality had erected, in black with gold varnished tips. They also built a roundabout made of three islands all filled with greenery.
“We are in the process of finishing a small roundabout that is to be filled with greenery and will get a phosphoric yellow and black paintjob on the edges,” said group leader Tony Narciss, a fourth-year civil engineering student, who is on his third volunteering stint and was camp coordinator for a second time. “The heat definitely takes its toll and we are doing shifts to combat fatigue and recuperate.”
Narciss explained how the whole process of volunteering offered a very enjoyable experience as well as the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends with the locals and the municipality, especially since they have been extremely welcoming and helpful. The latter was obvious when people affiliated with the municipality brought sandwiches and refreshments for the volunteers for their lunch break.
“I am originally from the North, and if it weren’t for these volunteer camps, I would have never discovered parts of my own country and met its people, especially here in the deep South,” he said.