Thursday, May 17, 2012

Baby keep smiling ... :)


Life laughs at you when you are unhappy
Life smiles at you when you are happy
But, Life salutes you when you make others happy

Charlie Chaplin

Charles was a wise man. Indeed, there is nothing more honorable than the selfless act of bringing joy into someone else's life. Especially if that life is shattered with pain. And even more so, if that pain is dwelling heavily in the heart of a child.

So I cannot be prouder with the organization I am about to introduce. And I have Cupcake Box to thank for that. The amazing and ever so generous Randa is doing the awesomest job in identifying honest and worthy charities each month  and inviting us all to support them by indulging in the sweetest of sweets.

Therefore, by ordering cupcakes throughout the month of May, you will effectively be supporting Ibtissama, Smile Foundation a wonderful organization with the noblest of missions: "Bring smiles, fun and laughter to hospitalized children, especially those with chronic illnesses, through visits held by specialized 'Clown Doctors'" explains Sara Kabbani, Ibtissama's project coordinator at the Smile Foundation.

The young AUB alumna with a Bachelor degree in Nutrition and Dietetics goes on to reveal that "in Lebanon, there are many NGOs and institutions that help cover the cost of treatment for cancer children, which is highly appreciated and praised. But Cancer doesn’t just affect the body; it also takes its toll on the psyche of the child, his parents, and his siblings. And it has been proven that the patient's mood, psychology does affect his body's response to the treatment. In many scholarly articles humor and laughter have proven to be very potent “medicines”. They have shown to produce positive effects on pain relief, cardiovascular wellbeing, stress relief, immune system boosting, and respiratory health. Similarly, psychosocial care which includes hospital clowning was found to be a protective factor against developmental delays, emotional withdrawal and behavioral regression. Ibtissama is the only NGO in Lebanon and the MENA region that works on that aspect of a sick child's treatment."

So we decided to have a chat with Sara and learn more about the organization she so passionately champions.

Sara Kabbani
Photo courtesy of: Sara Kabbani

How does a Nutrition and Dietetics graduate end up in the "smile business"?

I stumbled onto NGO work by chance and I fell in love with it, I was coordinating Ibtissama's activities back when it was still a small program in Ajialouna Association. As of January 2012, Smile Foundation became the sole manager of Ibtissama. Needless to say that I was over the moon when I was asked to join their team. My role as project coordinator is as versatile as it gets, from being responsible of all the day-to-day operations of the foundation to coordinating Ibtissama Team weekly hospital visits, training, payment, media relations, fundraising events, budget and sponsorship issues. And  social media, yes, I am the one flooding your timeline with constant Facebook and Twitter updates! (winks)

How is your work perceived by your entourage?

My friends and family are very supportive of my work, thanks guys! (smiles)

How does the Smile Foundation work?

A stay in hospital can be a daunting time for children; away from home and the people they love. Imagine their delight when 'Clown Doctors' transform the room into a magical space. 'Clown Doctors' can be very instrumental in uplifting a child’s mental state. They provide a distraction from the daily hospital routine. The effects can truly be emotional even magical at times: the interaction with the 'Clown Doctors' whether silently or interactively can result in breaking a child’s long silence to bringing fun and laughter back to the child. Without of course accounting for the positive impact it can have at times on the parents. We have 11 Clown Doctors conducting 120 weekly hospital bed-side visits to 120 sick children in 4 hospitals in Lebanon. Behind the success of Ibtissama hospital visits lies true commitment of its founding team, Smile Foundation administration, board members and staff, Théodora Foundation administration, the 'Clown Doctors', hospital staff and administration, trainers and sponsors. Ibtissama's idea, training and work protocols are modeled on those of the successful Theodora in Switzerland, operating in more than 10 countries across Europe.

Photo Credit: Ibtissama

How do you support your operations?  

Ibtissama sustains its activities with the support of generous donors, corporations, organizing fundraising events and so forth. We welcome every one to donate: there are no small donations as every dollar adds up and helps us make our work possible.

How did the Smile Foundation come to life? Who was behind the idea and why did they feel the need to create such concept? 

Mr. Ali Mouhanna, president of Smile Foundation, met Mr. André Poulie, president of Théodora Foundation at a P and G alumni reunion. The latter was hospitalized as a child. Being sick and not having his toys, friends or entertainment, he felt emotionally down and depressed. Théodora, his mother, soon found ways to uplift him by dressing up into different characters and sneaking into the hospital. Her overwhelming cheerfulness gave him so much strength and put some life back into him. In her memory, André and his brother created, in 1993, the Théodora Foundation in Switzerland whose aim is to bring smiles, fun and laughter to hospitalized children by having specially trained 'Clown Doctors' visit them in hospital rooms. In 2009, Mr. and Mrs. Mouhanna adopted the idea for Lebanon and launched Ibtissama in partnership with Ajialouna Association. As of 2012, Smile Foundation became an independent non-governmental entity managing the Ibtissama project.

What are the hospitals that collaborate with you? 

Since 2009, 'Clown Doctors' have been part of the hospital routine of the Rafic Hariri University Hospital, and the American University of Beirut Medical Center, including Children Cancer Center of Lebanon (St. Jude). In 2010, the project expanded to Makassed General Hospital as well as Hôtel Dieu de France. 'Clown Doctors' visit Makassed General Hospital on Mondays, Hariri University Hospital on Tuesdays, Hôtel Dieu de France on Wednesdays and the American University of Beirut Medical Center, including Children Cancer Center of Lebanon (St. Jude) on Thursdays.

Do you have any plans to expand to other hospitals in the country, and eventually beyond the Lebanese borders?

With time, Ibtissama aims at expanding its coverage to reach additional hospitals all over Lebanon and expanding to cover other countries in the MENA region. This all depends on whether we are able to fund this expansion, which again relies on individual and corporate donations.

Photo Credit: Ibtissama

How can hospitals or healthcare professional request your services? 

One of the conditions for us working in a hospital is it having a pediatric oncology ward. We expect there being adequate space for the 'Clown Doctors' to get ready and the cooperation of the nurses that need to provide data regarding patients (name, age, disease). 

How was the Smile Foundation welcomed by healthcare professionals and organizations? 

The fact that we are working based on the very successful Théodora Foundation model is a relief to hospitals as they are very careful with letting anybody in, especially around oncology patients who usually have low immunity. Our work protocols and professionalism are key factors to our success. Hospital administration, doctors, nurses, parents and patients love our 'Clown Doctors' and they always ask us to come more frequently. Their appreciation and love is what gets us going as it reflects the importance of the work our 'Clown Doctors' do. 

What about parents and patients, what are their reactions when they meet you? 

Once the 'Clown Doctors' arrive at a hospital ward, if parents happen to be in the hallway, you see the big smile on their faces and they quickly enter the room of their child to inform them that the 'Clown Doctors' have arrived. Sometimes, if the kids are able to walk, you can see them gathering in front of their room's door looking for the 'Clown Doctors' and patients wait eagerly for them to come. Sometimes, even after the visit to a patient's room, the same patient follows the 'Clown Doctors' to another room. These 5 to 15 minutes spent in each room are magical indeed. 

How are visits to the hospitals scheduled and based on what criteria? 

Upon agreement with the hospital administration, we set a mutually convenient day of the week for our 'Clown Doctors' to visit the pediatric and oncology pediatric wards of the hospital. We take into account meal times and Doctors' round time. 

What is a typical hospital visit? How do you prepare for it and what activities do you do at the hospital?  

A typical Ibtissama day starts the day before! During the preparation phase, 'Clown Doctors' prepare all their equipment and paraphernalia the day before their hospital visit. Most importantly, they have their gowns cleaned and disinfected. Because 'Clown Doctors' perform visits to different hospitals on different days, they have a pre-set schedule that points out the exact date and location of each visit. The schedule is also shared with each hospital administration. 'Clown Doctors' wear their usual street clothes on their way to the assigned hospital. 'Clown Doctors' costumes, gowns and shoes are only used for 'Clown Doctors' work. Sanitization of the whole 'Clown Doctors' attire is essentially performed before each and every visit. Hospital staff look forward to the 'Clown Doctors' scheduled visits. 

Photo Credit: Ibtissama

Upon arrival, 'Clown Doctors' start their work at the pediatric oncology care unit, based on their infection control protocol. They salute the nursing and medical team, and then they use a clean changing room to get dressed and to prepare their guise. Their costumes have only few basic colors to minimize stimulation. Minimal makeup is used, if any at all. The famous Red Nose is fixed in place and the 'Clown Doctors' are ready to charm the children. Inside a child’s room is where all the magic happens! Just before the 'Clown Doctor' begins the visits to children’s rooms, a short meeting is held with the nursing staff, to learn all children’s names, cases and special considerations. The 'Clown Doctor' then plans the order of room visits based on each child’s medical and psychological state. The 'Clown Doctor' would then head to the first room, where he or she asks the child for permission to enter the room. If the child allows, the 'Clown Doctor' makes an entrance that captivates the child’s attention and raises his interest. The 'Clown Doctor' uses body movements, suggestion games, role play, music, colors, juggling, soap bubbles and many other techniques intended to make children and their families fascinated and cheerful. Having opened a window for the change of mood, the 'Clown Doctor' salutes the child and the family, and leaves to another room. Sometimes, before leaving, the 'Clown Doctor' offers a special symbolic gift as a souvenir for the child. 

How do you decide which patients to visit?

'Clown Doctors' visit all children rooms in the hospital; regardless of age, gender, social, or economic background. The only requirement is the child’s and/or the family’s permission. 

Can parents and families of patients also contact you to request a visit? 

We cannot do a one off visit to a hospital we do not cover as there are many parameters to take into account.

Who are the 'Clown Doctors'? How do you recruit them? Do they have any trainings whatsoever in drama or otherwise? 

'Clown Doctors' are not just any clowns, they are individuals with the ability to improvise; most of them have a background in theatre and music. The training of Ibtissama 'Clown Doctors' takes up to a year and is divided into three areas of study: practical training, theoretical training and psychological training. 

After a rigorous recruitment phase, done in collaboration with Mr. Rodrigo Morganti - Dr. Strettoscopio, the lead trainer for Théodora Italy and an international trainer with the Théodora group of foundations, the selected candidates undergo the year long training before being able to work in the hospitals. 

The practical training includes the overall expressive, technical and artistic education required to become a 'Clown Doctor' provided by Mr. Morganti. Practical training takes place both onsite, at hospitals and offsite, outside of hospital premises. Onsite training starts with observation: candidates actively observe their fellow 'Clown Doctors' which allows novice and junior 'Clown Doctors' to gain knowledge by critically observing their colleagues. Onsite training gradually incorporates active performance by 'Clown Doctors' under the supervision and appraisal of an authorized trainer. Offsite training takes place in a calm space away from the hospital, where the coach guides 'Clown Doctors' in practicing technical skills, proposals and artistic talent. During these sessions the floor is open for exchange of ideas, sharing experiences, self critique and raising suggestions.

Photo Credit: Ibtissama

The theoretical training includes a custom-made educational course provided by professors and instructors from the Hariri School of Nursing at the American University of Beirut. This training course introduces candidates to the therapeutic environment of hospitals in addition to a general overview of children’s common illnesses that 'Clown Doctors' are likely to meet in any pediatric ward. The training essentially includes extensive exercise on both standard and case-specific precautions for infection control, on top of which is safe hand hygiene practice, and safety measures for the children with low immunity. 

The psychological training of Ibtissama 'Clown Doctors' is provided by renowned psychotherapist, Dr. Marwan Gharzedin. This type of training aims at familiarizing the 'Clown Doctors' with the psychological development stages of humans in general and children in specific. It also includes an extensive education about the psychology of hospitalization, and how sick children and their families experience illness and hospital stay. Psychological training also gives 'Clown Doctors' the opportunity for insight and reflection. 

As part of our continuous learning program, Ibtissama 'Clown Doctors' attend 2 to 3 workshops annually with Mr. Morganti to further develop their skills, and monthly psychological counseling and sharing of hospital work experiences with Dr. Gharzedin. 

Do you welcome volunteers?

Yes, we welcome volunteers, but obviously not as 'Clown Doctors'. They can help us in raising awareness, fundraising whether directly or through organizing fundraising activities, networking, etc. Whatever you do, we can always find a way for you to volunteer with us. Just get in contact with us! 

So you have full-time employees dedicated to visit hospitals, do you recruit new talents? 

Yes, our 11 Clown Doctors. And we do recruit new talents when there is a need. We currently are not recruiting. But usually we advertise in newspapers, word of mouth, theaters, and there is an application form on our website.

What kind of activities do you usually undertake to raise awareness and funds for the organization? 

We participate in university NGO fairs, we hold Red Nose Days at schools whereby our 'Clown Doctors' introduce Ibtissama's work and red noses are sold to students. This year we will throw our first Gala Dinner, and we plan other fundraising activities continuously.

How did you meet Cupcake Box?

I was introduced to Randa Kabrit, founder of Cupcake Box through a common friend; thank you Nibal! 

I saw Cupcake Box's Facebook page and I was instantly hooked. Randa is an amazing person; her enthusiasm and positive energy are beyond great. Her concept is a great one as it combines her love of helping others with that of baking. I encourage everyone to do that, find something you are really good at, whether it is designing clothes or jewelry, cooking, painting and give us a call. We would love to collaborate with you. 

Ibtissama and Cupcake Box Bake Sale at AUB
Photo Credit: Ibtissama

How are you and Cupcake Box collaborating and how can people support you? 

Ibtissama is Cupcake Box's Charity-Of-The-Month. That means that profits from the sale of all cupcakes during the month of May will be donated to Ibtissama. How great is that? We held a bake sale with Cupcake Box at AUB a week ago, and it was a huge success. You can support us by eating cupcakes! No need to thank us! (laughs) So whether you are celebrating a birthday, a baby shower, an engagement, throwing a bachelorette party, having friends over or simply craving a sweet treat, get in contact with Cupcake Box, place your order from their wide range of delicious cupcakes, muffins and cookies. It is as simple as that!

The above statement is fully endorsed by this blog! ;)

You heard the girl! You know what to do!

Useful Information and Bookmarks: 

You can support Ibtissama’s project by contributing to:
Smile Foundation 
Bank Audi, Beirut, Lebanon
IBAN: LB35 0056 0000 4997 2461 0020 2101

You can also: 
Sponsor a number of visits, a hospital, a 'Clown Doctor'
Make a donation in memory of a loved one
Why not organize a fundraising event with you friends, family or community etc.

Volunteer, collaborate, raise awareness about this worthy cause; the sky is the limit! Just get in contact with Ibtissama

  • Address: 135 Sakiat Al-Janzeer Street, Jade Bldg., Ground Floor, Ain El-Tineh, Beirut 2039-4505, Lebanon 
  • Phone: +961-1-801264 EXT: 115 
  • Fax: +961-1-790879 
  • Email  
  • Website 
  • Facebook  
  • YouTube  
  • Twitter

You can also visit Ajialouna and Théodora Foundation online.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Laïque Priders take the streets!


May 6, 2012: For the third year in a row, citizens of Lebanon assumed their duties and gathered in Beirut to demand radical changes of the country's confessional system and called for a secular state where all Lebanese can be equal under the same set of laws. This year's protest focused on:

  • Enacting a unified Civil Code for the Personal Status Law. 
  • Passing the Law for Protection of Women from Family Violence submitted by KAFA to the Lebanese parliament. We denounce the parliamentary committee distortions to the law draft and demand the full adoption of Kafa’s original draft that included criminalizing marital rape. 
  • Abolishing article 522 of the penal law, which drops charges against a rapist if he marries his victim. 
  • Amending the nationality law for the full right of Lebanese women to grant their nationality to their children and spouses. 
  • Passing the Draft Law Prohibiting the Pre-Censorship on Cinema and Theatre launched by Maharat Foundation and Marsad Al-Raqaba. 
  • Withdrawing the draft law Lebanese Internet Regulation Act (LIRA) proposed by the Lebanese Ministry of Information. 

Photo Credit: Sarkis Abouzeid (Source)

The Lebanese Laïque Pride : Asecular march towards citizenship

Protestors gathered in front of Sanayeh garden in Hamra and walked together to Ain El Mraisse. This year, a remarkable new element was added to the march: a Speaker’s Corner at the corniche, where everyone and anyone was invited to speak up and answer the question: "How would you change Lebanon?" 

I was very happy to be able to make it with my one-year old daughter Mia and my sixty-one year old dad. Three generations marching for the same rights. For a better Lebanon. For a better future. 

Will Mia and her baby brother need to keep on walking for sixty-one years, like their grand-pa'? We do not know yet but one can only hope our generation can make a change, not matter how slight.

Photo Credit: Rouba Abouzeid (Source)

Some were quick to discredit the march, their main argument being it is not an organized group and the goals do not include a comprehensive political, economical and social agenda. That is correct. 

The Lebanese Laïque Pride does not pretend to be a miracle cure nor is it a political party. 

It is a popular movement that was born from the people, for the people and that insists on remaining as such. Free from the grip of politicians and their greed.

And that is where the strength of the Lebanese Laïque Pride lies, I believe. 

Organized political parties with their supposed programs and big slogans which are only heard at elections time have failed to meet the needs of the people. They are so fixated on discrediting their competition, they cannot even hear those people or comprehend their needs!

Maybe, a movement led by the people themselves can be the redeeming alternative to political campaigns driven by politicians with and for specific individuals' agendas.

I was actually a little disappointed by many people I know. To be honest, I expected to meet half my acquaintances yesterday. Only two people I personally know showed up! Two! Maybe everyone I know is indeed out of the country. Or on vacation somewhere. Who knows.

I come from a line of seculars. At our household, this is the only system we understand, despite where we come from: a town based on "families" and deeply rooted feudalism. My dad's life was threatened at the heart of his parents' home when he was a young activist, on many occasions. And yet, this is the only person he can be. This is the only person I can be. 

So we always feel very excited and empowered when we take part in secular endeavors. And we naively assume those we see everyday and who share those same values would be as eager as we are. So yes, "only two" was a disappointment to me. 

But I am not at all disappointed by the Lebanese Laïque Pride itself, far from it. So many people, young and less young, gathered in spite of the burning temperatures and walked in sweat to make their voice, a unified Lebanese voice, heard in the main streets of Beirut, but also in the smaller neighborhoods where eyes were staring from windows and balconies. 

Photo Credit: Rouba Abouzeid (Source)

No quotas. No majority. No opposition. One unified Lebanon, made of Lebanese citizens from all walks of life, fighting for one unified nation. Lebanese citizens. Citizens.

One of the most striking and painfully true chant I heard around me was "I am not a sheep"! Painfully true, because it is hard to imagine, in this day and age, we need to remind our (so-called) leaders of that fact.

My dad, the eternal optimist who believes any secular effort in the right direction launched by any group deserves our support, was extremely pleased with the turn up. He told me he is always pleasantly surprised by the new faces and young blood he meets at those events. It means secularism is not some faraway, imported concept. It is a real need. And as young minds grow and understand, they make that need their own. So it is no shock, every year, new people representing their younger generation join the fight. And we must support them in that fight for a better nation for all.

Photo Credit: Rouba Abouzeid (Source)

Political parties with their broad programs (or lack thereof, come on, you know it) can keep their wide national goals. At the Lebanese Laïque Pride we aim small (maybe) but specific and definitely achievable. We do not ask for much. But what we ask for is definitely reasonable. We do not claim to fix every problem there is in Lebanon. But we know those problems we focus on are fixable, now. And funnily enough, they do not require that much effort or any budget from our parliamentarians. Just some common sense and the will to actually make a change, not just babble about it.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

BEE like Beirut


Beirut is like a beehive this month, so gear up for an excellent May 2012! 

Why don't you Bee Like Beirut too and join all the little ants running around town this month? OK, all the excitement might have got me a little confused. The animal world was never my haven anyway, I hate mosquito bites too much. In any case, ants, bees, mosquitoes, who cares?

What matters is 
it all starts today at Metropolis - Empire (Sofil Center)

Scrapbook: A Month Of Lebanese Cinema, dedicated to films produced locally between 2010 and 20122; for your eyes only. 

Yes, the trailer does not lie, one of our personal favorites, Gate #5 الحوض الخامس will be screening starting May 10. The highly promising program also features:

Scrapbook Program

  • Sector Zero | القطاع صفر by Nadim Mishlawi - Starting May 3 
  • The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni | اختفاءات سعاد حسني الثلاثة by Rania Stephan - Starting May 17 
  • My Father is still a Communist by Ahmad Ghossein - Starting May 24 
  • It's All Lebanon by Wissam Charaf - Starting May 31 
  • Marcedes | مارسيدس by Hady Zaccak - Starting May 31 
  • Yamo | يامو by Rami Nihawi - Starting June 14 
  • Ok, Enough, Goodbye | طيب، خلص، يلا by Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia - Starting June 14 

Each film will be screening for 2 weeks and all are in Arabic with English subtitles. Tickets are sold  for 8,000 L.L. and Scrapbook Passes are at 40,000 L.L. Students also benefit from a special discount (5,000 L.L.)

Also this Sunday, May 6, Maz Jobrani will be performing to help raise funds and awareness for SANAD and the seculars of Lebanon will march once again to demand their rights at the The Lebanese Laïque Pride.

Last but not least, I have to end with a quick reminder: my sister is running the Course des Héros taking place this June in Paris in order to collect donations for Cancer Research. Your help is extremely important and highly appreciated so please spread the word, especially to your friends and acquaintances who reside in France, as their donations are tax deductible.


  • Metropolis Cinema Official Web , Facebook and Twitter
  • Scrapbook event on Facebook
  • The Lebanese Laïque Pride on Facebook, Twitter, and this year's March
  • SANAD on Facebook and Maz Jobrani's show  
  • Gate #5
  • Sector Zero
  • OK, Enough, Goodbye
  • Marcedes

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