Dubai: A school trip to a refugee camp is relatively uncommon. But the impacts will last a lifetime.
To raise funds and increase the awareness of Emirati students from Dubai, about the hardships faced by communities close to home.
The trip combined many firsts for the 20 Emirati young men from the Dubai Men's College who embarked on a charity challenge to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, organised by Dubai-based charity Gulf for Good.
It was many students' first visit to Lebanon and was their first time fundraising, going to a refugee camp and hiking more than 10 kilometres a day on an eco-trail.
Before the trip, each student spent six month raising money — Dh12,000 per person — so that the class of e-business management students could take part.
Gulf for Good runs charity challenges from Dubai to countries around the world, in collaboration with local charities, allowing people the chance to travel, exert themselves and brush up against humanity in a way they never have before.
They also get to see what their fundraising has achieved, whether it is in orphanages, a refugee camp, schools or children's hospitals. The charity has a strong focus on children and helping to get them the best start in life.
Over 25 challenges have been completed by participants that combine, hiking, cycling or paddling in some amazing landscapes.
George Kesselaar, business faculty member at Dubai Men's College, proposed the challenge to his class.
The answer was a unanimous yes, with the exception of two students that had other commitments.
Funds raised would go to the Palestine Children's Relief Fund to buy emergency dental equipment and x-ray machine for use in refugee camps like the Shatila camp, set up in 1949, and SOS Children's Villages to furnish two concrete houses for 16 orphaned children and their "house mothers".
"I wanted to involve them in something that is bigger than them, like visiting the PCRF — which I think was the highlight of the trip.
"On an individual level they have matured a lot and have recognised that there is something else out there than what they see at home," said Kesselaar.
The Lebanon Mountain Eco-Trail took the students across 120 kilometres of rolling hills in five days.
For Ali Al Falasi, 20, this was his first time to Lebanon. "I wanted to do this to be able to help people. I have never done anything like this before. The people in the camp were so kind they treated us like brothers.
"We met orphaned children up to 12 years old that have been abandoned because their parents lack money," he said. "I had to ask my family for sponsorship and some companies. But I wanted to help the people."
Nasser Al Kindi, 21, said this was the most interesting part of the trip.
"People live in very small homes, they are crowded, noisy, polluted and the electricity is only on for 12 hours a day, there is no water. They have about $60 (Dh220) a month for several people, to survive on."
All the boys were moved by their interaction with the orphans.
"I didn't know it was this bad. On the TV and in the newspapers you hear about this but you can't imagine that it is this bad," said Humaid Al Shamsi, 20. "I will change and start saving money. I used to waste money but when you see people that really need it, you can't carry on just spending Dh300 to Dh500 walking around the mall. A family could live on that."
Patron of Gulf for Good, Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and Chairman and Chief Executive, Emirates Airline & Group, has congratulated the students.
"I am extremely impressed with the dedication and huge effort of the young men of Dubai Men's College to undertake such a physically demanding hike in the Lebanon mountains, as well as raise funds for two deserving children's charities. I hope that this Gulf for Good challenge has helped the students to push their limits and learn the value and enjoyment of motivation, commitment and helping others," Shaikh Ahmad said.