Two jobs were created at the Al Mona center for hearing imparities & mental development in Tripoli the week that Yazan, a member of the fundraising team in Canada visited the HCI team in Lebanon. The center, a subsidiary of the Charity of the Islamic Women Society was where the first meal of HCI’s Farm to School program was served to schoolchildren in Lebanon. Farm to school brings healthy food from small local low-income farms to underprivileged school children at schools located in low-income areas. Vulnerable women, particularly widows and women with special needs are employed to prepare these meals and the targeted local farmers are given agricultural support and assistance to improve their economic stability. The center’s students were served a nutritionist designed meal of locally produced organic sautéed green beans and beef served with rice and a yoghurt salad, with an apple each for dessert. “The kids enjoyed the meal and were really happy to be able to play with each other and make new friends afterwards” Inaam Aloosh, the president of the CIWS told us as we toured the premises and witnessed the students happily engaged in their lessons despite the many challenges they are faced with. The Al Mona center has been a longtime local partner of HCI and hundreds of children with special needs have been able to benefit from many of the facilities secured by HCI such as equipment for testing hearing abilities and a psychomotricity room that helps the children coordinate the movement of their bodies with their brains.
We drive away from Tripoli northwards until neighborhoods are replaced by slums; grimy and bare concrete homes in disrepair randomly layered over each other and navigable only by uneven dirt paths. We have reached Beddawi, our second destination for the day. We are here to visit Mona; a widow and a single mother of nine. Her son Abdel Hadi is one of the many orphans aided by HCI’s child sponsorship program. She runs a tiny dimly lit grocery shop which also includes a sewing machine in the corner that allows her to double as a seamstress “I am barely able to make ends meet on my own; Beddawi is a very poor area, there is hardly any work here, I don’t know what I would have done without the child sponsorship program” she says to us as we sit in her modest home waiting for Abdel Hadi and his siblings to arrive from school (despite her difficult situation, she makes sure that all the children get an education).
When we enquire about how Abdel Hadi has been doing, she tells us that thanks to the his sponsorship he has recently been able to have surgery done in one eye to enable him to see better and will have the other one operated on soon. When he eventually arrives he greets us shyly and tells us about his day at school, he looks healthy and happy; it was worth the long bumpy journey to see his radiant smile. As he runs off to have lunch with his siblings we also remember that we have to head out to our next destination as well.
El Minieh is our next destination; we are here to visit Houriyeh, a widowed mother of two and a beneficiary of one of HCI’s micro credit programs. She welcomes us warmly and serves us chilled glasses of delicious fresh yogurt and tells us the story of how the yogurt came into being; “three years ago after my husband’s death, it was up to me to take care of the children on my own. I had heard of small microcredit loans that were being made available by HCI through a local partner and I decided to apply for one and buy a cow”. With this cow she was able to set up a small household dairy business that supplies the local community with fresh milk and yogurt. In addition to this, the manure produced by the cow is also bought by local farmers to be used as a natural fertilizer. Her cow eventually gave birth and she was able to sell the calf and settle her loan. It is amazing to witness firsthand how such a small sum of money has been able to impact this family’s life so positively; she tells us that thanks to this one cow she has been able to provide for her children and complete the construction of the house that her husband had started building before his death. We are impressed to learn that the yoghurt salad that was served at the first Farm to School meal in Tripoli was made of yoghurt provided by Houriyeh.
Our final destination for the day is in the Mhamra agricultural area; it is close to the Nahr Al Bared camp and was heavily affected by stray shelling from the 2007 Nahr Al Bared Conflict resulting in the loss of many harvests which dealt a crippling blow to the local farmers that are already caught in vicious cycles of debt. We are here to visit Khodor, one of these local farmers. Khodor and his six brothers own a small farm that they struggle to survive from.
He tells us that he has been engaged for about six years now and will continue to be unable to get married until he manages to save up enough money to build a small home for his future wife and himself to start a family in. Right now the siblings and their families live together in a small modest house on the farm and their priority is keeping the farm productive as it is their only source of income. As part of HCI’s agriculture extension services project, Khodor’s land is being reviewed by a team of volunteer agricultural engineers to determine what can be done to improve its economic stability. It has been a long day, we have seen a lot. It is time for us to head back to Beirut to prepare for the next day.
We head southwards towards Nabatiye the next day to visit another one of HCI’s local partners: Tamkeen Association for Independent Living, which is a nonprofit non sectarian and non political entity that takes care of the disabled and works on their rehabilitation. They have been around since 1987 and HCI has had a long and active history with them: some of the many projects implemented by HCI include equipping the special education center, early intervention center and the physiotherapy treatment center for rehabilitation of disabled people (particularly landmine victims), securing emergency relief funds for those affected by the July 1996 war and the numerous conflicts the area has seen, a landmine and unexploded ordnance danger awareness program and a micro loan program for disabled people and their families among others. HCI’s latest project with Tamkeen is to provide agricultural backyard production assistance to the physically disabled; the importance of this project lies in the fact that the handicapped are able to secure an income through micro farming outside their houses, without the need to commute placing them on the path towards self sustainability and improving their self esteem. Until now 10 people with special needs have been given support via HCI to help improve the viability of their backyard farms.
As we are shown around the center we meet Ali and Abdallah. Nine year old Ali was born without legs and until a few weeks ago had spent his entire life moving around on a wheelchair. Now, thanks to artificial limbs secured by Tamkeen, he is overjoyed to be learning to walk for the first time in his life. Eight year old Abdalla, on the other hand lost his leg a few weeks ago when he inadvertently stepped on an unexploded ordnance while playing in a field near his home. He too will be provided with an artificial limb once his injuries fully heal. As we visit the different classrooms and meet more of the special needs children, we can’t help but admire the spirit the challenged show in the face of adversity and a feel a deep sense of gratitude and respect towards all the individuals and organizations that dedicate their time and efforts to make positive change and empowerment come into fruition.
As we drive Yazan to Beirut, we excitedly discuss new ideas that have started to bud as a result of our collective experiences coming together on the field. The visit has come to an end. We say our goodbyes and though we head off in different directions, our goals remain the same.