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Solidarity in Lebanon: Local initiatives respond to rising poverty levels

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Thousands of Lebanese people are struggling to survive amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s deepening economic crisis.

Inflation, coupled with insufficient state support, has made daily living a challenge for much of the population.

More than 45% of citizens are now living in poverty, according to the World Bank, and it is estimated this could rise to 75% by the end of the pandemic.

In Beirut, Zeina is one of many whom have been struggling for months.

“The bills are rising, everything is getting more expensive,” she told Euronews. “I'm so sad and desperate, I can't sleep all night.”

Given what she perceives to be a social stigma attached to requiring and receiving aid, Zeina asked for her name to be changed when she was interviewed by Inspire Middle East.

Recognising the reluctance of many people in need to request or accept help offered at a government level, community groups have sprung up across the country.

Community bonds

Tareck Karam speaks to Inspire Middle East about his initiative Lebanon of Tomorrow

Entrepreneur Tareck Karam, started a grassroots initiative called Lebanon of Tomorrow, in response to rising poverty levels in Lebanon.

Without discriminating against social and religious background, the organisation has recruited numerous volunteers across the country to help bring food and medical supplies to those in need.

“Transmitting the virus is something really scary at the moment,” says Karam. “That’s why people are refraining from going to the Emergency Room as much as they can - but cardio cases are inevitable.”

To help the cause Karam has donated funds and an automated CPR machine to one of his local hospitals to minimise the exposure for frontline medical workers.

“This machine reduces the number of staff working on one case, from eleven to one,” he says. “The next step, next week, is doing COVID tests for free."

Creating support

In Lebanon, elderly people are particularly susceptible to poverty following retirement.

Beit el Baraka, co-founded by Maya Ibrahimchah, is striving to fill the gap left by the state, which provides little support.

The elderly shops at Beit el Baraka

The initiative is a so-called ‘free supermarket’, where the elderly can shop for essential items. The project can also assist with rent and utility bill payments, to stave off homelessness for the retirees.

Another important aspect of the group is that it allows those who may be isolated, to interact and reconnect with their community.

Through social gatherings and exercise classes, organisers are hopeful elderly members will feel less lonely.

“People who join Beit el Baraka, they’re not just here for food,” says Ibrahimchah.

“They’re also here to be part of the social tissue that we’re knitting around seniors here, so they help each other.”

With contributions from Nancy Sarkis, Arthur de Oliveira and Nicolas Tabbal.