Fighting racism, one child at a time

One in five people in Lebanon today is a domestic worker from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia or the Philippines. Simba Russeau organized a media workshop at a school where their children mix with those of Iraqi and other refugees. Using interview techniques, she tried to get the kids to overcome their prejudices against each other.
Words, sound and photos by SIMBA RUSSEAU
Lebanon, Children of Domestics.jpg
At the Insan school, children of domestic workers mix with those of refugees from Africa and Iraq. © Simba Russeau

Domestic workers can be seen all over Lebanon in their pink or blue maids uniforms, often with one or two Lebanese children in tow, carrying the mistress' groceries or taking the master's dog for a walk. One in five people in Lebanon, is now a temporary worker from outside, mostly from Africa, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. That means close to a million people among a Lebanese population of four million.

Although most domestic workers leave their children in their home countries, there is an increasing number of children of domestic workers.

Three years ago, the Insan school was established in the Beirut suburb of Sin el Fil with the goal of assisting these children, and those of refugees from Iraq and other war-torn countries, by providing a center where they can make up for gaps in their education and eventually be accepted into Lebanese schools.

Nine nationalities are represented at the Insan School and last year they were successful in enrolling twelve students into Lebanese schools. Important features to the schools curriculum are programs to help these kids deal with racism.

"One of the main problems that hinders the children is the issue of racism, which comes from the Lebanese society and especially the children," said Charles Nasrallah, director of the Insan school.

Helping the children integrate into Lebanese society can sometimes improve the lives of their parents as well.

"For some nationalities, the Lebanese law allows for a child that is already registered in a Lebanese school to have residency. So by providing an education also helps the kids in becoming legal," said Nasrallah.

Video portraits

I noticed that the kids were insulting each other, which would lead to physical or verbal confrontation. To address the issues of divisions within the group I asked the kids to pair up with someone they didn't know or have conflict with.

They were asked to create video portraits of their partner using interview techniques to inquire about the others life and situation in Lebanon. This allowed a forum for the kids to create dialogue and to also show how interviewing is really a way we can bridge gaps amongst one another.

Many children of domestic workers face marginalization and racism within the Lebanese society because of their parents' social status.

In Arabic, the term "Abed" is used to denote a "black" person or "slave" and the word is sometimes heard in reference to Africans or Sri Lankans. Non-Arab Afro-Asian migrants in Lebanon are physically looked upon as inferior due to their positions as servants of one kind or another.

In any society, the media play a major role in determining how we stereotype one another. Media stereotypes are inevitable, especially in the advertising, entertainment and news industries, which need as wide an audience as possible to quickly understand information.


Stereotypes give a quick, common understanding of a person or group of people, usually relating to their class, ethnicity or race, gender, sexual orientation, social role or occupation. Those in power often use them to justify the act of social prejudice and inequality. More often than not, the groups being stereotyped have little to say about how they are represented.

Placed in a group for the first time, eight youths aged 11 to 16 were introduced to interviewing techniques as a creative platform for the participants to safely step outside of their comfort zones and explore their immediate environment through the use of multi-media.

Here are some of the things the children learned about each other during the workshop.

Douaa is from Sudan –
e got to know each other. I didn't know Misha was from Sierra Leone. Misha and her mother came because there is war in their country and no food."

Wissam is from Egypt –
"I learned more about Sara. I met Ramez who came because of the war. He came to school to learn."

Sony is from Iraq –
"I met Mona.
She was born here.
She likes pizza and spaghetti with milk.
She likes cabbage.

Mona is from Sri Lanka –
"Wissam has been here for  three years
and he has one sister.
He is from Egypt.

Sara is from Iraq –
"Wissam has a 13-year-old sister.
He came with both his parents. He is 14 but he says he's 15. He likes bugs and cats.

Hanin is from Iraq –
"I met May.
I benefited from everything.
I learned how to make a story,
how to take a picture
and how to
interview each other.

(Simba Russeau is an American-Senegalese independent journalist based in Beirut. More of her work can be seen at Universal Journalist.)