Let's share our story
Kelna Inta started in 2016 during our visits to Roumieh prison, I didn’t live here at the time, I had moved from Strasbourg to Berlin, but most of my vacations in Lebanon revolved around social work with different NGOs (mostly Mission de Vie, to whom I am very thankful), we went on missions in the streets, in different villages, visited hospitals, houses in poor conditions, retirement centers, and in 2016, we started visiting prisons. After my first visit to Roumieh (December 2015), I decided it was time for me to come back to Lebanon and start doing something for the country, or rather for the people that are living here. Seeing the miserable conditions in prison was just the push I needed to come back here. Heartbreaking, distressing and inhumane, don’t even begin to explain the situation. And so, I came back. I came back, and kept going on different missions in different prisons with different NGOs.
However, a few months later, sensing their constrained and controlled ability to work in prisons, and wanting to do more than was “allowed” through others, I talked to my mother Yolla about it (who I am also forever thankful for, she has initiated me to this humanitarian work since young age and has been with me every step of the way), and told her about my plan to start our own NGO. Nothing was clear yet, but all I knew at the time was that there was so much that had to be done, and not enough people that were doing it. When asked in prison who I was, my answer was always: “Ana Inta”, meaning: I am You. I didn’t want to belong to any party, any religion, any nationality, all I wanted them to know was that I was there for them, and if there was anything I could do to ease their pain, I would. “Ana Inta” eventually became “Kelna Inta”: We are all You. I talked about this project to my friends and we all agreed it was time to act. Nay, as always, was the first to respond (and the first person I reached out to) and she immediately hopped on board. I couldn’t have wished for anyone better to start an NGO with. And so we did. I then talked to Elias about it (my brother’s best friend), who has always been a brother to me and has always helped us in all our missions, financially and morally, and he was also driven by it. So we formed a board, a minimum of 4 persons were required, and we went for it. My mother Yolla, Nay, Elias, and myself Mayssam. (My aunt also wanted to be part of the board, Bahia, but apparently, there couldn’t be more than 2 members from the same family. Nonetheless, she is an essential part of us).
This wasn’t about prisons, nor about prisoners, this was much more revealing, it was about every person suffering, every person in distress, and every person in need of someone to hear their story. As Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a Russian novelist, journalist, and philosopher stated in one of his works:
"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."
Again, this was not about prisons. This was about all the wrongs, all the damages, and all crimes (most of them not illegal by law, but awfully immoral and wicked) the we have been observing in our civilization. This was about the future we were doomed to have, and about the either “blasé” and insensitive spoiled generations we were raising, or the tremendously damaged and scarred generations we were ignoring. I believe all children should have equal chances in life, and I believe we all play a part in showing them that.
And so it started, we met with lawyers and different people involved and went through the procedure to get all the papers done concerning the NGO. When I told Hady about it, he was particularly helpful and he immediately did the first step and bought us a domain name and said: “You have to go public!”
Given my limited patience when it comes to social media, I nagged about it to Lea (my extremely determined and strong-minded friend who lives in Strasbourg, France), and she instantly volunteered and said she would help with the website and other medias. What a relief.
Meanwhile, we kept visiting prisons, we procured lawyers for different persons who didn’t have the means to pay for a lawyer, we “remodeled” some of the cells and got them fans and ventilators and repainted the walls (something that hadn’t been done in over 60 years) – a special thanks to Mark here who has been a great support specially in this project - we got in contact with prisoners’ families, we paid for people’s bails and kept in contact with them after they left prison, we started teaching kids (Iraqi and Syrian refugees mostly) and helping them in their homework. Mona, Tania and Claire, my mom’s friends were always there to help us and are excellent teachers and support to the kids. We followed up with a few medical cases of people who didn’t have financial resources and sent them to labs and took charge of their rehabilitation, we threw events for the kids we were taking care of. In fact, I had barely talked to Tarek about it that he immediately donated to the NGO and has been present in many of our events and is always a great inspiration and motivational talker, especially to the kids (and to myself!). We also sent monthly provisions and supplies to families who were in difficulties and our caterer and great support Farid was always ready to provide us with all the ingredients needed and to cater for any event we had…
The list goes on, and it was basically a holistic humane approach we were having. Any problem has its solution, if not many of them! (also something my mother has repeated to me innumerably over the years).
We grew a lot since then, a lot of volunteers have joined our team and helped us immensely in our cause. Sanaa, my soul-sister, has been a huge moral support all throughout, especially when things were getting tough. When I asked Marianne or Cynthia, my old school friends and sisters by heart, for any kind of help, they were always ready and present. Everyone around us was extremely supportive and helpful, and we are very thankful for all of them. I have written a list of every person that has been involved and has helped us these past couple of years (you can find it below). To those who didn’t want to be cited, thank you. To every person who has been here, thank you. To every person who has been there but helped as if they were here, thank you. To every person who helped, and to every person we helped, thank you. To every person who gave us any advice and word of encouragement, to every person who’s eyes teared when hearing our stories, and to every person who sees himself or herself in the Kelna (all of us) or in the Inta (you), thank you. Thank you.
That’s essentially it, the projects are countless and the possibilities are wide. This is only the beginning, we are still moving forward and will keep moving forward until there comes a time where no one will ever need to beg for their basic rights. Until then, we will keep doing anything we can to make this world we live in, even just a tiny bit better.
Thank you for passing by, and please get in touch, whether you are in Lebanon or anywhere else in the world, we are always open to new suggestions and eye-openers! … Lea, our marketing director who is based in Strasbourg, France, is probably thinking right now: ‘I asked her to write 5 lines!!’ Thank you Lea for always pushing us to expand and for always supporting us the way you do from across the seas!