In October 2019, the two climbing professionals Katherine Choong and Mathilde Becerra went to Lebanon. On their trip, the two supported the aid organization Climbaid in the organization of a climbing competition. In the following, Katherine Choong reports on a climbing trip of a different kind.
A report by Katherine Choong
When Beat Baggenstos came up to me and the organization he founded climb bait I was immediately impressed. When I go on a climbing trip, whether I want to take a certain route or discover a new country, it's usually all about me. This time there was something else: sharing my experience and passion for climbing with young people who could not benefit from the privileges that I had as a child.
Visited with the "Rolling Rock", a mobile climbing wall built on a small truck climb bait Since 2016 schools, community centers and Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon from April to November.
The aim is not only to introduce children to regular sporting activities, but also to promote the mental health of children and adolescents who are living in precarious conditions due to the war. In addition, they should acquire social and life skills and regain self-confidence.
Thanks to my partner Mammothwho supported me in this project, I was able to travel to Lebanon with Mathilde Becerra for six days. In Beirut we ended up in the middle of the Lebanese people's uprising against his government.
Life seemed to stand still temporarily. The streets were deserted, the shops and schools were closed, except for Arabic songs. Only banners and graffiti indicated that a revolution was underway.
Although 18 different religious communities live side by side in Lebanon, the population took to the streets every evening in an outbreak of solidarity to demonstrate non-violently against the government. Even though I cannot claim to have grasped the full extent of the conflict, I felt many emotions in the demonstrators' eyes, their desire for change, but also joy and hope.
The demonstrators had blocked numerous streets, but after a few short detours we managed to get out of Beirut by car the next day to head towards the Beqaa Plain and us Beat and the others climb bait-Connect volunteers who warmly welcomed us: Marlène, Lena, Deniz, Jameson and Mohammad, the project manager on site. The journey was an adventure in itself, because the traffic rules are - let's say: different from ours. It was the first time that I drove backwards on the highway!
The goal of the week was to help organize a friendship bouldering competition for the young Lebanese and Syrians who regularly take part in the climbing sessions of climb bait participate, had trained hard - an event they had been looking forward to for weeks.
In between we stopped routing and Beat and Mohammad took us to a refugee camp to meet young climbers who did that climb bait- attended training. Outside, the children played barefoot with rubbish they had found on earth. The accommodations were improvised from tarpaulins and reused materials. I got goose bumps if I only imagined spending the winter in such conditions.
Mohammad, who served as our interpreter, explained that not only was limited access to water and electricity a problem, but also that the tents were often flooded in heavy rain.
"I got goose bumps if I just imagined spending the winter under such conditions."
A family invited us and offered us friendly tea. We took off our shoes and entered one of the tents.
When we talked to the teenagers, we learned that the boys would participate in the competition, but the girls could not participate. Because they had reached marriage age, the girls explained to us that it was unfortunately no longer appropriate to take part in such events, not even in the training sessions for women reserved for women climb bait, They were between 14 and 16 years old.
"Mohammad told us that these young people went to school last year, but that unfortunately there was no room for them this year."
The meeting with the young people made me aware again how privileged we are to have grown up in a caring environment. In contrast to them, fundamental rights such as those for education are a matter of course for us.
At a time when everything is performance-based, when it is so important to be able to climb a level higher, to bring home a win in a competition or to have completed a certain route, we should remember what great luck it means to be able to climb easily - to be able to live our passion. This puts our small problems into perspective, which are sometimes so meaningless.
On the day of the competition, more than 40 young Lebanese and Syrian youths arrived at dawn. Because they were so early, they spontaneously helped us set up the tables and chairs so that we could greet the rest of the participants. It touched me that the young people came to talk to us and tell us how happy they were to meet us.
"They were very interested in our competition experience and asked us a lot of questions about training and methods to get stronger."
After warming up together, the competition began. The participants climbed alternately and with remarkable energy and motivation the 15 bouldering routes that we had prepared. Not a single curse, no tears; everyone went out of their way to climb as best as they could without ever getting angry. And as soon as the opportunity arose, like at a big celebration, the young people started to sing and dance. Several times during the day, the very generous participants offered me an apple, dates and delicious cakes.
The finale was an amazing show in a tense atmosphere! When we said goodbye, everyone hugged, congratulated each other, and the youth thanked us.
When I think of Lebanon, I remember the smile, the warm welcome and the kindness of the people, be it in the middle of a demonstration in Beirut, in the wide plain of Beqaa or in a refugee camp. We haven't had a chance to climb the rock, but Tannourine is famous for being a great place to climb.
I was able to convince myself of the commitment and the great work that climb bait has done in recent years. The organization has succeeded in creating a real community and giving the participants so many moments of happiness. As Beat puts it so well: «It's just a drop in the bucket, but a drop that counts! Everyone can contribute and make a difference. »
Finally I realized that these young people gave me much more than I gave them. And I realized how much these young people resemble us. They are young people who are curious about knowledge, are full of joy and have dreams in their heads.
About the aid organization Climbaid
With the exception of Lebanon climb bait also in your own country. Asylum seekers can now take part in bouldering sessions free of charge in six climbing halls in Switzerland. This should not only promote the physical and mental health of the refugees, it should also enable social contacts. The minimum bouldering halls in Zurich, city bouldering in Kriens, GLKB in Näfels and O'Bloc in Bern as well as the climbing hall 6a plus in Winterthur and the climbing center in St. Gallen take part in the initiative. More groups are under construction.
The projects of ClimbAID are financially supported by Minimum Bouldering, Refugio Kalandraka and Transa.
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Credits: Cover picture Jameson Schultz / Climbaid, translation into German Karin Steinbach Tarnutzer