BEIRUT: The boom of an explosion echoes on the screen. Images of children with painted whiskers and clown noses, tears streaming down, briefly flash on the screen.
Khaled Qabbani angrily slammed the suicide bombers whose twin blasts in Bir Hasan earlier this year devastated Dar al-Aytam al-Islamiya, a social welfare organization and orphanage.
“This is random criminality that must be brought to an end,” Qabbani, the general director of Dar al- Aytam, told the gathered press corps. “This criminality targets these orphans, who have no family.”
This time, Qabbani was smiling and defiant. He had just launched the center’s annual Ramadan campaign: a plethora of plays, traditional iftar meals – some Lebanese families invite a dozen or more of the children at the orphanage to break the fast with them – street decorations and marches to spread the joy of the holy Muslim month, in addition to an environmental campaign.
“The bombings and so on did not affect the institution, but even had a positive impact because it increased sympathy for it,” Qabbani said. “The building that was destroyed by the explosion we are now rebuilding, and it will be finished in October, and it will be better than it was before.”
“We fear nobody, we rely on God, and God is with us because we are doing good,” he said.
Dar al-Aytam al-Islamiya was created in 1917 and served as an orphanage during World War I. It has significantly expanded since then, providing services, including education, in over 30 locations across the country, particularly to orphans, widows, poor families and the elderly, and prides itself on providing for the needy regardless of sectarian affiliation.
The center’s Bir Hasan branch was at the halfway point between two car bombs that exploded in the neighborhood in February, wounding several children who were gathered for a birthday party. Dar al-Aytam provided extensive psychological counseling to them in the hope of recovery.
Sympathy with the plight of the center’s children after the bombing prompted donors to pledge their support for the rebuilding effort, Qabbani said.
This year’s Ramadan campaign is titled “A Good Deed Will be Multiplied,” and posters show children smiling in front of fields meant to signify the cultivating power of positive acts and to evoke an environmental message that is the cornerstone of the marches planned this year.
Qabbani insisted that Dar al-Aytam was not merely a place for children to seek refuge, but prepared them to play a role in the development of society.
“It’s not simply a shelter home but a place for growth and unleashing energy,” he said.
The center’s activities over the past year included programs for children with special needs, women’s empowerment campaigns, events to promote the Arabic language, cultural theater performances and activities to increase awareness of international conventions on children’s rights.
During Ramadan, marches organized by Dar al-Aytam throughout Lebanon will shed light on environmental issues, including preserving Lebanon’s forests and ecological wealth, as well as encouraging the use of alternative energy.