Sixty young volunteers from the Joy of Giving organisation have worked since July to renovate the Aley prison in Mount Lebanon to allow inmates to return to the facility in mid-September.
Beneath the din of the volunteers and songs emanating from the prison on the first floor of the Aley saraya -- local government headquarters -- each volunteer focuses on the tasks at hand: coating a wall with cement, laying tile on the floor or painting.
Elsewhere in the prison, other volunteers help skilled workers complete work in the lavatories.
Amid the bustle, volunteer Abdullah Obaid, 25, explained the motivation behind the organisation's latest efforts.
"We are remodelling the prison, which is considered the worst in Lebanon in every aspect," he said. "We did maintenance work on it a few years ago, but we are back this summer to do extensive work on it because of its dilapidated state and humanly unacceptable conditions."
"This is the most crowded prison in Lebanon, holding more than 80 detainees in two utterly unsanitary rooms that are not equipped with enough beds," Obaid said.
Volunteers from Egypt, Jordan, France, Switzerland and Sweden also participated in the rehabilitation workshop.
The effort involves expanding the prison's two detention rooms, its exercise yard and prison administration offices, and building a kitchen and lavatories, according to Obaid.
The work is being conducted in co-ordination with the Directorate of Internal Security Forces.
As the flurry of work continued around him, Obaid said the volunteers "demolished and rebuilt walls and assisted with infrastructure work, such as electricity, water, heating and air-conditioning systems".
Aley prison is "the largest workshop we have ever had", he said, describing his volunteer efforts as "helping where help is needed without expecting anything in return to make the prison fit for living".
The Joy of Giving was founded in Lebanon and France in 1985 by Lebanese and French students, who sought to create an opportunity for young people from different regions and sects to learn about each other, live together and unite their communities.
Since the 1990s, the organisation started providing prisoners with winter sweaters, an initiative that introduced volunteers to the reality of Lebanon's prisons.
"The Aley prison is the sixth prison workshop we have worked on after workshops in Tyre, Amioun, Batroun, Jbeil and Tebnine," said Melhem Khalaf, the lawyer who founded the organisation. "We also developed plans for the Zahle and Barbar al-Khazen prisons."
Khalaf said the Joy of Giving's plan for Lebanese prisons includes rehabilitating buildings, ensuring that maintenance is performed in the future, securing the admission of social workers into the prisons, providing training for wardens to ensure a smooth transition from the ministry of interior to the ministry of justice, and setting up an electronic network to help administer the prisons and track prisoners' terms.
"Public space is of interest to us, and as a youth organisation that cares about citizens we feel the pain of those who live in unsuitable conditions, and that stirs in us a sense of solidarity, which is the foundation nations are built on," Khalaf said.
"The tragic existence the prisoners lead motivated us to help the state rehabilitate the prisons, guided by human rights principles and a sense of human dignity," he said.
"The most important aspect of the initiative is the voluntary work and the fact that young volunteers enter the prison to make it less cruel and cold," said former interior minister and lawyer Ziad Baroud.
"With a tool set and a little money, they transformed the prison from an abominable place to a more humane one and did it with paint brushes they hardly know how to use," he said.
Baroud worked with the Joy of Giving in the early 1990s and volunteered with the winter sweater campaign. During his term as interior minister, he followed the organisation's work in the Tebnine and Batroun prisons and supported actress Zeina Daccache, who provided drama therapy in the Roumieh and Baabda prisons.
Baroud said he sought to transfer authority over the prisons from the interior ministry to the justice ministry under a five-year plan when he noticed that the interior ministry was not prioritising them.
He also sought to develop a prison reform plan aimed at delivering the prisons in a rehabilitated state to the ministry of justice, "rather than delivering a ticking time bomb caused by overcrowding and the decrepit state of the buildings", Baroud said.