When David Maloof first visited Lebanon with his family in 2008, the children at Dbayeh refugee camp in Northern Beirut, Lebanon inspired him to raise money for a basketball hoop.
On his second trip this year, David learned that the single hoop expanded into a full court. “When we saw this court, it was amazing,” said David, who is now a senior at Fairfield University Preparatory School. “Behind the court is an abandoned Syrian prison with a fence around it. Being there was really striking, to see this contrast between what used to be almost like a torture chamber and now it’s become an area that inspires happiness.”
The Maloof family toured many relief projects sponsored by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, an agency of the Vatican, in the country that David’s great-grandfather emigrated from in 1914. The camp stuck out to the young man, who was in middle school at the time, because he “identified more with the kids” and noticed the things that children would miss in poverty. He noticed the kids occupied themselves with soccer on a dirt field. Some of them mentioned that they wanted to play basketball, David said. When he returned home, the family started fundraising at St. John RC Church in Darien. By 2009, they had raised enough money for the camp to buy a basketball hoop.
When David returned to Dbayeh this August on a tip from camp directors that the kids wanted a basketball clinic, he learned how his suggestion for a basketball hoop had grown into a fully marked court, donated by the Italian consulate in early 2011.
“Giving them an experience rather than donating something” was very important, he reflected. David and his father, who play at the Darien YMCA, taught the kids themselves. “It felt like it could be anywhere,” David said about playing basketball, which does not rely on speech.
“It’s funny because certain things are universal–things like body language and emotion. Comptetitiveness, happiness came through when we were playing basketball,” he said. They plan to connect to local Catholic organizations to get volunteers to do regular basketball clinics, said his father, also named David Maloof. That is, until the family can return to Lebanon on the 100-year anniversary of David’s great grandfather’s emigration in 2014.
Dbayeh supports 1,800 residents; some are recent refugees from violence in Syria but most are Palestinian. Despite funding from agencies such as the United Nations, World Vision and the Catholic Association, they live in very poor conditions in a camp built at the site of a former Syrian prison. Syrian troops controlled the area until 2005. According to David’s observations, the government does not allow permanent roofing on the concrete buildings so residents have tin roofing. The area is still surrounded by the destroyed remains of the prison. The houses had two beds, a bookshelf and light bulb hanging from wire in ceiling, David said.
The camp was established in 1956 for Christian Palestinians coming from Galilee in northern Palestine, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the near east.
“These kids, I think, feel a bit abandoned and lost in the world, being refugees,” David said. The experience influenced a speech he wrote for the team that he founded at Fairfield Prep. It emphasizes his idea that though the refugees are in a bad position, it doesn’t mean they have done something wrong, David said.
The experience taught him that “people are not that different.” Their visits showed the refugees that there are people who care about them, he said. The Maloof family sponsors a family at the camp and provides an opportunity for their children to go to school. David encourages people to donate to the area or to Dbayeh specifically, if they can or simply to learn about the political situation in the area.
David is a top student at Prep, coaches wrestling for inner-city children in Stamford and is a volunteer firefighter at the Noroton Fire Department. He plans to go to college next year and would like to study international relations, take a course in Arabic and look into the issue that he was introduced to several years ago on that family trip.