Daniel Corrou, S.J., a Jesuit at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry going through regency, the final stage before ordination, lived from 2011 to 2014 in the city of Beirut, Lebanon. With his passion to help others through a Jesuit lens, Corrou worked with Jesuit Relief Services to bring aid to those affected firsthand by the Arab Spring uprisings.
During his time in the Middle East he continued to develop what it means to live the Jesuit values. At BC, the mission of the Society of Jesus rings throughout the core tenets of the University. But many times students have trouble combining the elements of a Jesuit mission with the values of their everyday lives. Corrou has three areas that he feels highlight what is central to not only a Jesuit education, but also to incorporate that education into students’ lives.
“First is to see an academically lively life, and interest to the life of the mind,” Corrou said. “Second is to see a commitment to the work of social justice and solidarity with the poor that makes itself known in the academic life. And third is that grounded in a profound spirituality there is depth beyond social analysis. Something is there about absolute reality, something about God. These three things ground my life as a Jesuit.”
For his stage of regency, when candidates are normally sent to Jesuit high schools or universities, Corrou was sent to Lebanon for Arabic studies.
Corrou first arrived in the Middle East two weeks before uprisings began in Tunisia. He was sent to the Jesuit headquarters for the Middle Eastern province in Beirut, Lebanon. The Jesuits there decided to send Corrou to Syria due to the stability at the time, and its population of Iraqi refugees.
“They said I should definitely go over to Syria and live in Damascus, because it is the best place to learn Arabic,” Corrou said. “When in Syria my main job would be to study Arabic in the day and in the afternoons work with Jesuit Relief Services Iraqi refugees in Syria.”
Uprisings and instability started in Tunisia in December 2010, then spread to Libya and Egypt as the winter and spring progressed. By the time Corrou started applying for visas to get into Syria, the country was not letting any Americans in.
“The war had started in certain places in Damascus, Syria,” Corrou said. “Everyone was saying, ‘Give it six weeks, it will all blow over. Syria will get stable.’ They said that for the first year. Then I went to Beirut, to camp out and do Arabic studies there.”
Corrou ended up in Beirut as a mistake, but still found that there was a direct need to help refugees through JRS. During his two years, Corrou worked at a Jesuit high school, teaching English. During his teaching, he spoke French at his home and learned Arabic.
Due to the political uprisings, he and his colleagues were trying to figure out what was going on, as well. During his second year, there were certain places where wealthier people realized the gravity of the situation and planned to leave. Many people boarded up their houses and left to go into Lebanon or surrounding countries where there was more stability. These people intended to come back after six months or so.
But during the middle of Corrou’s second year abroad, the floodgates opened and the refugee crisis became more serious. Corrou explained that the refugee status was different for those in Lebanon due to the changing global status of migrants.
“People had very few resources and started to have a swense of hopelessness that this wasn’t going to end, if not for good, then for a matter of years,” Corrou said. “Global things started to happen with refugee and migrant questions. In the last 50 years, refugees left a place and went to an open space, such as the Ethiopian refugees from the ’80s. Then the UN or other resources would set up a tent city. It wasn’t good, but everything was localized and all contained. Now what is happening is refugees are going into cities and finding where to live. There are no refugee camps. Lebanon is a country of 4 million people, and you have 2.5 million Syrian refugees coming in.”
Corrou and others in JRS would meet those refugees on the streets and try to understand what their needs were. By seeing what these people needed, JRS began to develop a network. Corrou related this process to what groups on BC’s campus do, like 4Boston and Arrupe volunteers.
JRS quickly began to build up a network and receive donations from wealthy Lebanese or Americans. The organization built a framework in the area and began to become a structured part of JRS.
“Before it was ad hoc donations from rich [Lebanese people] or Americans,” Corrou said. “Once we had a framework, we started getting larger grants from international NGOs. In doing this, we were realizing that the number of people was growing so quickly, that this little group wasn’t going to be the best at helping with basic emergency needs. At this point large NGOs—Caritas, International Red Cross and UN agencies were getting involved.”
Corrou and JRS quickly realized was that these larger international organizations were better at displaying the emergency need.
“What we realized in these major neighborhoods where we had connections set up is that we needed a school or social center,” Corrou said. “That is what JRS does very well in East and West Africa and Southeast Asia. JRS is very good with psycho-social programs.”
During his second year, Corrou was also in charge of the Beirut functions. He worked along the border and the coast of Lebanon. A program that Corrou worked on specifically was developing a social center out of a school building. This made the process of receiving aid more normal for the people. There were intentions to use the center in the evenings to show movies, but due to the strict 8 p.m. curfew, it was not possible to do activities after dark.
Corrou came back to the United States, and arrived at Boston College in August 2014. For students to be involved and aware of the refugee crises going on currently, Carrou said that students need to be smart about what information they believe and not fall prey to speculation.
“There is so much misinformation out there,” Corrou said, “about what is happening in Syria, and what is going on in terms of U.S. involvement, certainly all of the stuff with refugee settlement.”
Corrou said that there are many great programs already in place at Boston College, such as BC Catholic Relief Services, the Muslim Student Association, the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, and the BC School of Social Work.
These organizations do not necessarily only work with refugees and Syrians, but they display the correct information through having educated students and professors lead the groups. Since one of the major areas of misinformation is a failure to understand Islam, Corrou asks students: How can BC students come out of BC with a better understanding of Islam?
Featured Image by AP Photo