Stories from the Oxfam archive: Lebanon in 1950s and 1960s

Posted by Amy Christian Stories, Film and Photography Project Manager

20th Jun 2013

A few weeks ago we came across a box of photos in our archive labelled 'Middle East'. In it were hundreds of photos from Lebanon, Jordan and Syria showing the work Oxfam had been doing there during the 50s and 60s. For me, looking at these pictures brought back all kinds of emotions and memories of a recent trip to Lebanon and I wanted to share them with you today, on World Refugee Day

Working in Oxfam's Stories, Film and Photography team, I spend a lot of time working with incredible pictures. But I never get tired of making new discoveries. To hold a print in your hand from decades past is like holding a delicate piece of history. A fleeting moment in time, captured and printed, stored in a box and buried away, only to be discovered more than 50 years later. There is a certain magic that happens when you start digging around in an archive. Hours can pass at a time as you leaf through prints looking for something special.

I was recently in Lebanon to collect stories of Syrian refugees so Oxfam can show the rest of the world why they desperately need our help. The pictures I found in our archive reminded me of the people I met in Lebanon. People like Mr Abdul Mohamid.

It was a cold January day in Lebanon's Bekaa valley when I met him. He was sitting in a doorway on a small wooden stall, quietly watching the world go by and no doubt wondering what we were all up to with our cameras and notepads. The ground was covered in a light dusting of snow and as Abdul sipped at his tea, you could see his breath in the icy air. I went over and said hello, sat down next to him on a wall and discovered he spoke some English. Now 83, Abdul told me he was born in Palestine and in 1949, at just 18, he had fled to Lebanon as a refugee. He told me how difficult that first winter had been, how it had snowed just like it was now. He explained that the memories of his past now compelled him to open his home to refugees arriving from Syria, giving them the help he remembers having needed all those years ago.

People like Abdul remind me of the kindness we are all capable of. Right now, all we seem to hear about are the atrocities in Syria. But for me, it is the memory of Abdul, sitting quietly on his stool, watching the world and taking care of strangers, that affirms my belief in human kindness, in love and in compassion.

As we continue with our work on the archive I can't help but wonder about the people in the photographs. Are their stories similar to Abdul's? And has the help Oxfam offered them in their hour of need now inspired them to help others too? 


More stories from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan

There will be more from Amy in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, you can read Jane Beesley's blogs about Reema, a 12-year-old girl who has had to leave Syria - and is now living as a refugee in Lebanon:

Reema: A girl whose face you'll never see

A small green book: Reema's poetry

- Syria crisis: We are not alone




Blog post written by Amy Christian

Stories, Film and Photography Project Manager

More by Amy Christian