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Ahla, Welcome Home!
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Isabelle Hanna

“Ahla, Ahla, Ahla!” (Welcome, Welcome, Welcome!) my mother exclaimed, greeting me home from school with her kind smile and warm embrace.

When I was young, home meant where my family lived. Home was the care and attention of my parents. Home was the toys shared between me and my siblings, the games played with the kids on our street. Home was beautifully ornate churches and prayerfully planned after-school activities. Home was the compassion and love between neighbors. To the world, this place is known as Deddeh, Lebanon. But to me, the only word I have ever called it is home.

Deddeh is a small village in northern Lebanon, spanning no more than three miles in length. Its community of devout Orthodox Christians embodies what our Lord teaches: in Deddeh, neighbors care for one another and meet daily to drink coffee and share life. Church bells invite all to come, bringing their joy and their sorrows. Deddeh is a safe haven to those who enter. It has persisted as a beacon to this day.

Leaving one’s home is difficult, especially when not by choice. However, despite the distance and passing years, despite how fast the world changes, the legacy that has remained with me from Deddeh is a love for God and the values of kindness and gratitude. I aim to imitate the example of my elders by caring for guests and making them feel at home. I remember lessons that have stuck with me, shaping who I am as a wife, mother, and teacher. This is a way of life that cannot be replicated until you’ve experienced it.

Working at The Saint Constantine School has been a dream come true. It is a safe haven for our children. Here, children are guarded by their community of peers and faculty. And here, their ideas are valued and their teachers truly care. 

Having worked as a TSCS teacher and nursery caretaker for over five years, I can attest that this community is like a family. It is a community where everyone looks out for one another, where teachers welcome students with bright smiles, where affection pours from my fellow nursery staff towards the beautiful babies, and where prayer unites the school. The opening of the nursery doors brings me a feeling of peace, as does sharing food and coffee with staff while catching up on each other’s lives. This, along with the parents’ unwavering trust in us and their love for their children, makes me feel I am in my own little slice of heaven on earth. 

In the last year, I’ve lost both of my parents. While the pain from their deaths is immense, I know God’s love for us is greater still. Just as we would rally around a loved one back home, my TSCS family has rallied behind me here. Their support, alongside the babies’ hugs and smiles in the staff nursery, have been the medicine that helps ease the pain. I never thought two places, seven-thousand miles apart, could embody the same values and traditions. I am so happy to say that I have gained a second home here, where I can be reminded of these beautiful things from my childhood.

So to everyone I may or may not have met, as my mother would always say, “Ahla, Ahla, Ahla!” Welcome Home.