Dec 292009
 

Landmine victims in the South of LebanonLife in the south of Lebanon is not easy. In a country all too often ravaged by war it has suffered the most. Located along the Lebanese-Israeli border, one of the most volatile on earth, its residents live a life of uncertainty. In 2006 the simmering tension once again became full scale war almost without warning. The same could happen again. Southerners know this perhaps better than anyone else, and, as one can imagine, stress related mental disorders are widespread.

The scars of war are visible everywhere. Southern Lebanon is littered with unexploded landmines and cluster bombs. These, combined with injuries sustained during conflicts, mean that the South has a high number of physically challenged individuals. These individuals are severely limited in their opportunities. Again, it is war that is the main culprit, as it has prevented sustainable development and destroyed infrastructure. Services for the physically challenged are hindered by poor micro-economic conditions, as those areas which are the most economically depressed tend to also have high numbers of physically challenged victims of conflict. The result is very little support for the physically challenged, and a very poor state of accessibility.

Southern Lebanon suffers from high unemployment among the general population, and the physically challenged in particular have little chance of obtaining meaningful employment. Research indicates that 85 percent of landmine victims regard lack of employment opportunities and economic reintegration as their main concern. Insufficient access to training, education, and capital means they often lack marketable skills, making it extremely difficult for them to achieve economic independence. As long as this continues, the physically challenged will be unable to break the cycle of dependence that is extremely detrimental to their self-esteem and emotional well-being.

More than three years have passed since the end of the 2006 war, but the damage lingers. It has left a legacy of poverty and uncertainty to a region that is a stranger to neither. During the war between 1.2 and 4 million cluster munitions were dropped. About 40% of these cluster bomblets did not explode. Many of them have yet to be cleared, and they continue to kill and main. The bomblets have also severely damaged agriculture, rendering formerly fertile fields into virtual no-mans lands. Hundreds have been killed since the end of the conflict, and farmers take risks by continuing to work fields which have yet to be fully cleared. They do so because if they do not work the fields, they will become one more in a growing number of unemployed. Additionally, landmines are a part of daily existence. There are an estimated 150,000 landmines still deployed in Lebanon. The vast majority of minefields remain both unmarked and unfenced. Alongside cluster munitions they destroy both lives and livelihoods.

The impact of the landmine problem in southern Lebanon also includes issues of internally displaced people, basic services and socio-economic development. After the conflict, all humanitarian and development assistance efforts were hampered by the threat of mines, resulting in a lack of rehabilitation and resettlement areas, a lack of land for agriculture, an increase in costs of development, a deterrent to tourism and, of course, a devastating impact on people. Experience has shown that an integrated approach to a landmine/UXO and social rehabilitation problem in an affected country is necessary to achieve maximum efficiency, to reduce risk, and to achieve increased security. Additionally, an integrated response could address the problems of mine/UXO surveying, marking and clearance; terrain verification; and mine awareness in a coherent and coordinated manner.

HCI has had a long history of working to improve the lives of land mine and UXO victims in the region, we have collaborated since 1995 on numerous projects with local partner Tamkeen Association for Independent Living, which is a nonprofit organization that takes care of the disabled and works on their rehabilitation. 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 2006 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 venture with Tamkeen is the Backyard Production Support project. The project provides complementary services to the farmers and entrepreneurs such as offering them seeds, soil fertilizers or any materials they may need -all free of cost – to improve their production, better manage their projects, and of course support their livelihoods as small scale farmers and entrepreneurs. The importance of this project lies in the fact that the beneficiaries are able to secure an income through micro farming and other enterprises close to or outside their homes, without the need to commute, placing them on the path towards self sustainability and improving their self esteem. We would like to share with you the stories of some of the individuals who benefited from the Agricultural Extension Project.

Nasser Oubeid

Landmine victims in the South of LebanonNasser Obeid is thirty seven years old; he lives in the Southern Village of Jibchit. He is the sole breadwinner to a family of eight children. He used to be a construction worker, but after stepping on a landmine he was disabled as a result of his injuries and was unable to continue construction work. Last year he started a small backyard farming and cow rearing project as a more feasible way for him to support his family given his current physical condition.

Since receiving HCI’s small grant Nasser’s backyard project has been very successful, he is aiming to buy ten thousand Carob plants in the near future.

Landmine victims in the South of LebanonSamih Nasser

Samih Nasser is forty five year old father of two daughters that have speech and hearing disabilities. He lives in the southern village of Deir Syrian. In 2001 he was injured by a landmine and as a result his left leg was amputated below the knee, he is still undergoing treatment and rehabilitation.

Samih used to own a small shop near his home that he was unable to continue running, this caused him a lot of anxiety, and he was eventually forced to close it down. HCI’s intervention has helped him operate a small farm near his home and given him hope that his family will have a better future.

Landmine victims in the South of LebanonHoussam Tabajah

Houssam Tabajah is thirty six years old and lives in the southern village of Kfartibnit. After a land mine accident he lost his leg and as a result of severe head trauma also lost his sight.

Thanks to HCI’s intervention he was able to successfully set up and operate a small kiosk that sells food items and snacks among other things. Houssam’s success has inspired him to dream of bigger plans for the future; his new goal will be to eventually set up a citrus farm and raise cows.

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Dec 162009
 

Adahi 09 Understanding the culture and living conditions of the local communities we work with is part of HCI’s philosophy while serving these communities, especially at times such as Eid when great importance is placed on reviving and enjoying the traditional aspects of local culture. In addition, these traditions serve to strengthen community ties and embody important ideals such as generosity and helping the needy.

On the 10th of Dhi Al-Hijaa during the pilgrimage season, Muslims around the world celebrate Eid Al-Adha or the “Feast of Sacrifice”. As part of the celebration, an animal is sacrificed for the sake of Allah and to feed the needy and poor. It is a rewarding spiritual act for Muslims. Every year, Human Concern International (HCI) carries out the Adahi Meat Distribution Project in different underdeveloped Islamic countries to feed needy and vulnerable families.

In 2009, the project was implemented in Gaza, the West Bank, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan (with Iraqi refugees) where families of the poorest communities received meat packages directly from HCI’s team, or through the help of our local partners.

The goal of the Adahi Meat Distribution project was to enable poor and vulnerable families to cover their basic need for animal protein during this holy season. Inflation of the prices of meat usually occurs during this season, which reduces the purchasing capacity of many families, especially poor ones. Many families also cannot sacrifice their own livestock because they need their animals for the production of milk, cheese and other dairy products, and to work in the fields.

The project has three main objectives: relieving poor families who cannot afford the high price of meat during this season; forming links with local communities to address the needs of poor and vulnerable families, and complementing HCI’s overall relief and development initiatives in the region. HCI’s selection criteria directed distributions to low-income, large, and single-parent families, particularly if the single parent was a woman or person with special needs.

Adahi 09In Gaza, HCI’s team made up of tens of volunteers went door to door and personally delivered the parcels containing meat portions. They listened to and made note of each family’s problems so that this information could be used for the next needs assessment and distribution project. Hundreds of families benefited from the distributed portions. The distribution was implemented in Sheikh Rdwan in Gaza city, Ezbat Abdrabo in Jebalia, Al Zaytoon neighberhoods, and Shajaeya in Al Shatae refugee Camp.

Neighborhood committees and the local volunteers helped in the distributions. The Shahada family, one of the families benefiting from the Adahi packages told the volunteers that they literally hadn’t tasted meat in months, as did another family from Ezbit Abd Rabo, who were extremely thankful for the meat they received, without which their Eid would have been miserable.

Adahi 09In the West Bank, HCI’s team organized the distribution of hundreds of meat packages to low income families with special needs persons in the Central District of the West Bank.

Female-headed households, and families where the breadwinner is disabled, were selected as front-end beneficiaries. Local women’s groups and village councils assisted in the identification of beneficiaries. HCI’s local partner, the Vocational Training Workshops for Girls NGO in Palestine contributed additional parcels that were distributed to additional families. The slaughtering took place at the premises of the NGO, as did the distributions. Families arrived early morning of the first day of the Eid to get their Adahi. The project provided direct support to the families surrounded by the West Bank Wall or by Israeli settlements. Local newspapers reported on the distributions.

Adahi 09In Sudan, HCI along with local partners, organized and implemented this year’s Adahi Distributions in many refugee settlements in the south, north and west of the capital. The Adahi Project targeted all those who reside in these communities, focusing on single mothers and orphans. Targeted beneficiaries where identified in association with local partners. The slaughtering and distributions were done according to the Islamic traditions. Every family received one package. The project targeted the poorest families, especially widows, orphans and families with no income. HCI’s team made a point to be active in communities that contain refugees from the Darfur region and from southern Sudan.

Adahi 09 In Egypt, HCI’s team distributed meat packages to the poorest households in the marginalized new desert settlements of Kalabsha El-Jedida, Bashayer el-Kheir, New Tomas and ‘Afia village located west of Lake Nasser.

In order to guarantee a proper exposure to the HCI, banners, stickers and bags with the HCI logo where printed to be used on the day of distribution, so that people from the villages would recognize that the event was an HCI initiative. HCI’s local partner, the Center for Development Services, contributed additional parcels bearing the logos of HCI and its partners that were distributed to additional families.

Adahi 09In Jordan, in the Jabal Al Qusour district, one of the poorest areas of the capital Amman and home to thousands of Iraqi refugees, HCI’s team distributed food packages to marginalized and mostly widow headed Iraqi refugee families despite the continuing challenge of reaching needy Iraqis who are often unable to seek out official forms of aid because of economic constraints or disabilities.

Family Development Association, a women-headed grassroots organization, assisted in reaching out to Iraqis most in need based on the preset selection criteria. HCI’s long term local partner, New Development assisted in the screening and selection of final beneficiaries, as well as in the procurement of food items in close consultation with HCI’s team. HCI’s local partners contributed additional packages bearing the logos of HCI and its partners to be distributed to additional families. Local newspapers reported on the distributions. These families are live mostly on donations and humanitarian aid with no financial income whatsoever. The Adahi distribution made it possible for them to fully celebrate the holy days. One of the families which received a meat portion hadn’t included meat in their very humble meals since the last Ramadan Eid.

Adahi 09In Lebanon, hundreds of needy single mother headed families benefited from this year’s meat distributions during the Eid Al-Adha in Tripoli, Lebanon. Some of the distributions were conducted at the premises of HCI’s partner in Tripoli, the CIWS.

HCI’s team went door to door in the poorest neighborhoods of the city of Tripoli and personally delivered the meat portions to the remaining beneficiaries. HCI’s team supervised and monitored the entire process from the procurement of the supplies to the packing, as well as the organization of distributions and the selection criteria for beneficiaries in order to ensure the highest and best efficiency.Beneficiaries have commented positively on the distributions, and have sent greetings and best wishes to HCI, and to the people who made their Eid possible.

The Adahi project is designed to deliver immediate relief to the poorest families in 5 Arab countries (Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt). It is important to continue implementing this seasonal project every year, as poor families can’t afford meat portions in their diet due to its high costs. The Adahi project promotes sharing and caring values especially in times of need, as well as in times of feasts. The project promotes the good will of HCI and our commitment to working and alleviating poverty in the Arab region. It enhances HCI’s relations with local partners who implement these projects, and the communities in which we work with.

The Adahi project as an immediate relief project supports other development projects that HCI is implementing in the region by exhibiting HCI commitment to poor communities need. It demonstrates the quick response and delivery of the HCI’s projects while working towards longer and sustainable outcomes through our other specialized projects.

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Dec 112009
 

HCI KG West BankFrequent arrests, military raids, over 600 Israeli military checkpoints, severely restricted freedom of movement, and ever-expanding settlements occupying more and more land are all a part of life in the West Bank. Conflict, poverty, unemployment, and isolation have left its residents with an uncertain future. The physically and mentally challenged, who according to WHO estimates make up 7-10% of the Palestinian population, are far from immune to these issues. To make matters worse, continued conflict, landmines, and political instability mean that the number of challenged individuals will continue to rise. They are subjected to societal prejudice and lack of opportunities. Discrimination against the physically and mentally challenged is widespread, and extends into the educational system. This prejudice, combined with the very poor state of accessibility throughout the West Bank due to hilly geography and lack of reliable public transport, means that young, challenged children are often denied the chance to attend school.

Children, in particular, are sensitive to the traumatic events which characterize life in the West Bank, and it affects their development acutely. Disabled children may be faced with two challenges, both the physical handicap of, for example, a hearing impairment, and the emotional damage caused by the sudden loss of a family member due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Displacement and an uncertain future are felt by children as well as adults. They are deprived of the sense of stability and social cohesion that is critical for healthy psychosocial development.

HCI KG West BankThe Palestinian Authority does not have the resources to aid these children. Funding for specialized schools is not readily available, and the economic crisis throughout the West Bank means that resources remain scarce. Restricted movement and occupation have taken their toll on the West Bank economy, and in turn on the funds available to the Palestinian Authority. This means that it is up to Non-Governmental Organizations like Human Concern International to fill the gap, and give the children the education they need for a real chance at a fulfilling life.

Without education physically and mentally challenged children are often doomed to a life of dependency and poverty. To prevent this from happening they must be reached at as young an age as possible. Numerous studies have shown that early childhood development is crucial for success later in life. In light of these facts HCI, along with local partners like the Vocational Rehabilitation Workshops Society for Girls (VRWSG), have established a unique kindergarten in Bethlehem targeted specifically at physically and mentally challenged children with a special focus on the hearing impaired; there is much work to be done in the field of providing early education opportunities for special needs children in Palestine and The Human Concern Kindergarten (which was given its name by the local partners in recognition of HCI’s efforts in the region) is proud to be one of the pioneers that provides these children with a much needed sense of normalcy and stability that is sorely lacking in the lives of West Bank children. It gives them the confidence they need to face the enormous challenges which await them later in life.

HCI KG West BankThe school has a capacity of forty children. That is forty Palestinian children who are given a safe haven, specialized training, and a chance at a better future. Teachers trained in sign language give hearing impaired children the chance to fully communicate. Furthermore, the school not only aids the hearing impaired, it is also fully accessible to the physically challenged, and has staff ready and able to deal with whatever difficulty the children may face, whether is it physical or mental. The school is fully equipped, and all facilities (rooms, entrance/exits, door, kitchen, toilets, playground, etc) are approved by the Ministry of Higher Education as fully accessibilities for children with mental, hearing, or physical impairments. Its staff includes counselors specially trained to work with deaf and mute pre-school children, as well as social workers capable of providing psychosocial support.

HCI KG West BankHelping children is critical for the future of the West Bank. It not only aids the children themselves, it also aids their parents and families through the activities organized by the kindergarten. It teaches children to become self-reliant, which will in turn relieve future financial burdens placed on family budgets already stretched to the breaking point by restricted movement and a depressed economy. Outreach activities inform parents of the importance of educating their children, and sign language training is given to the families of deaf and mute children so that they are able to fully communicate together. The kindergarten has helped boost the local Bethlehem economy by creating nine new full-time jobs. It not only symbolizes a chance at a better life for the children, it also represents hope for the future of the community.

Social workers employed by the kindergarten help to reduce the stigma that challenged children face amongst their fellow Palestinians. By working with local residents they encourage greater acceptance of physically and mentally challenged children throughout the community. This is done through actions such as the training of government workers in the use of sign language so that they are better able to communicate with hearing impaired children. The kindergarten itself ensures that challenged children meet others who face the same difficulties, and lets them know that they are not alone in their struggle. It is a bright spot in the otherwise bleak lives of children who are not often given the chance to succeed. Little by little we are working towards the day when these children will no longer be outsiders; a day when they will be able to contribute to the building of a more prosperous, accepting Palestinian society.

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Dec 102009
 

Marathon Beirut 09Last Sunday the streets of central Beirut were transformed by the Beirut International Marathon. For one day they were devoid of traffic, as people of all ages, religions, ethnicities, and nationalities walked and ran side by side. They turned the streets into a sea of people, all of them willing to sacrifice their time and energy in support of a cause. On that day HCI spread its message of healthy living to the more than 33,000 people in attendance. We sponsored underprivileged children to run in the marathon, encouraged them to exercise, and inspired their peers to do so as well. The HCI team made up of children aged 9 to 17 from rural Lebanon, many of them orphans, ran together to promote our campaign. The spirit shown by these children, who participated with boundless energy un-dampened by the rain, was perhaps the best advertisement for a healthier lifestyle.

Marathon Beirut 09This year’s Beirut International Marathon saw more than 33,000 participants, including, among others, the Lebanese President, Prime Minister, four government ministers, and many other Members of Parliament, brave the cold and the rain to come together and run or walk in support of a good cause. More than 4,000 volunteers also took part, including members of Human Concern International, a testament to the strong sense of community often displayed by the Lebanese. The marathon was truly for everyone, not only the professional athletes and victors. It was an event which gave many people the rare opportunity to run and exercise in a city where the absence of parks and public space makes it often very difficult to do so. For one day the sounds of car horns and the fumes from exhaust pipes were replaced by thousands of people singing, laughing, walking, and running. It was a demonstration of what can be achieved if we make the very simple choice to live healthier.

Marathon Beirut 09The Beirut Marathon provided HCI with a unique opportunity to spread our message to literally thousands of people. It was an opportunity that we did not miss. Before, during, and after the marathon participants and visitors received HCI’s awareness materials which encouraged Lebanese to take a second look at their diet, and, combined with our website (www.hcime.org/sahetna), provided them with all the information they need to start eating healthier. A 34-pages manual was produced to address all requirements for a healthy diet. “Food pyramid” posters were given to local schools, and placed in classrooms to let children know how much vegetables, fruit, grain, milk, oils and beans they should eat everyday. Children must know the importance of eating healthily, and these posters give them the knowledge they need in a colorful and engaging way. In the days and weeks leading up to the Beirut International Marathon, HCI utilized a booth in the heart of Beirut to distribute printed materials, and meet face to face with both marathon participants and members of the general public. By doing so we were able to reach a large number of people, promoting a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet. Through our website we were able to bring that same message to countless others.

Marathon Beirut 09In Lebanon and from the start we have encouraged healthy activities, as seen by our sponsorship of Beirut’s first ever Terry Fox Run in 1997. The Terry Fox Run, an event in which people of all ages come together for one day to run and raise money for cancer research, was only the first step. More recently we also implemented the national “Farm to School” project, which promoted healthy eating habits among school-aged children, along with many other objectives. Information is the key to combating the obesity epidemic. Better informed people make better decisions, and will lead happier, healthier lives.

Marathon Beirut 09The Beirut International Marathon happens only one day of the year, and reaches out to tens of thousands of people. On that day HCI did what it could to promote a more active lifestyle and a healthier diet, but in order for our advice to be effective it must be followed the other 364 days of the year, and reach millions of other Lebanese. Obesity is a serious problem that deserves serious attention. We must all pay more care to what we eat, and start to exercise regularly. HCI can provide the information you need in our online healthy eating guide, including ten recipes for specially developed nutritious meals which use ingredients easily available throughout the region, but only you can make the choice to change your lifestyle. Doing so will give you a longer, healthier, happier life, and help prevent what may soon become the most serious epidemic on earth.

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Oct 282009
 

The number of orphans and children from single mother-headed households in Sudan has risen dramatically over the past few years due to war, natural disasters, and other crises. Poverty and economic hardship also have added to children born out of wedlock who, according to Sudanese law, are considered orphans. Since 2003, HCI has been addressing this problem by sponsoring orphans in Sudan as part of HCI’s regional Child Sponsorship Program. There now are over 140 orphans from Sudan’s poorest communities having their basic needs met–health care, nutrition, education, guidance–getting a shot at a brighter future.

Today’s Orphans, Tomorrow’s EntrepreneursBuilding on HCI’s extensive regional experience in orphan sponsorship, HCI has been exploring new ways to reduce immediate needs of orphans and to create greater opportunities for their future progress.

Entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly accepted as an important means and a useful alternative for income generation in young people, particularly in the developing world. As traditional job-for-life career paths become rarer, youth entrepreneurship is regarded as an additional way of integrating youth into the labor market and overcoming poverty. For orphans, entrepreneurship is a bottom-up method for generating an income, self-reliance and a new innovative path to earning a living and caring for oneself. More importantly, when these end-results are met, the psychological health of the orphans improves; when orphans, for the first time, generate an income and develop self-reliance, they are going to feel worthy, confident, and self-confident.

Today’s Orphans, Tomorrow’s EntrepreneursFurthermore, the majority of orphans, especially children from single mother-headed households living at home, rely heavily on financial and in-kind assistance from either better-off individuals or from institutions. Such children become passive receivers of charity, meaning that they rarely get the chance to explore and build on their capacity. With such mindset, such children rarely try, at older age, to make the leap from survival to long term sustainability by investing in entrepreneurship. The reason behind this is not only the fact that they rely on charity every month and thus feel no pressure to work, but also because they have been passive receivers for such a long time that they have lost the mental readiness to actually build progress on their personalities. These children, as adults, no longer believe that they can be productive – they lose self-confidence.

It is October, there is a group of fifteen teenagers gathered together eagerly taking notes, we are in one of HCI’s entrepreneurship classes held in Sudan, these eight girls and seven boys’ lives are about to change; they are one of many groups of orphaned youth to be selected for HCI’s program. In a series of six three-hour classes, they are cultivating a positive attitude towards entrepreneurship, developing entrepreneurship within the group, getting a deeper understanding of running a business, receiving hands-on entrepreneurship training, testing their business ideas under realistic circumstances, and most importantly, getting “a sense of and feeling for” entrepreneurship and business by implementing the concept of “Business for a day” in which they are asked to carry out a spontaneous business activity, which is subsequently evaluated.

Today’s Orphans, Tomorrow’s EntrepreneursAlia is one of these students; She lives with her mother in a makeshift house made from bits of plastic & aluminum, her father and brothers were killed several years ago in the bloody civil unrest that plagues the country. She is one of the many internally displaced people that have fled the violence in the south of the country and live in the slum-like settlements around Khartoum. The only opportunity she has to improve her life is the education and the help she receive through HCI’s sponsorship program. Even though she is just seventeen, she is already full of business ideas, she tells us that she is learning a lot from the classes and is excited to start her own business; “there is no running water in our area, the women have to trek for 45 minutes to the nearest well to fetch water every morning. If I take out a micro loan, I will be able to buy a donkey and use it to carry water from the well and sell it to the women in the settlement. By doing this way the girls in the settlement will have more time to go to school and learn”.

There are thousands of young people like Alia in Sudan, needing a just little bit of guidance and a small push in the right direction in order to unlock their full potential and build up the confidence to develop their own livelihoods; after all the visions we offer our children shape the future.

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Oct 282009
 

Jabal AkroumJabal Akroum is one of the poorest and most marginalized areas of Lebanon; it is remote, difficult to reach and underdeveloped. It is located high up in the mountains of the Akkar district which has seen several conflicts back-to-back; in 2006 there was the July War in which all of Lebanon was affected and in the summer of 2007 there was the more damaging Nahr Al-Bard conflict which dealt a devastating blow to the local economy. It is estimated that seventy three percent of the population of Jabal Akroum live below the poverty line.

Jabal AkroumIn an attempt to care for and support the children affected by poverty and conflict in this area, HCI together with local partner Jabal Akroum Association, organized an excursion for one hundred boys and girls from eight villages in the Jabal Akroum area this August as an intervention to address their psychosocial wellbeing, which is a very important factor that if neglected can lead to reduced social connectedness, coping skills and resilience, this in turn places children at risk of isolation, apathy, drug or substance abuse, truancy, self-exploitation, and criminal behavior.

Jabal AkroumThe children, mostly orphans from underprivileged backgrounds and their supervisors were transported by buses to the northern city of Tripoli for a fun filled day. The first activity of the day was a trip to an amusement park which was reserved for them in advance; they were given access to all the rides and games. The children laughed, ran about, played and generally seemed excited. Many of them told us that this was their first visit to an amusement park, and their first time in the city.

Jabal AkroumAfter the amusement park the children left, (albeit a little reluctantly) to go the Al Mona School, where HCI local partners CIWS had especially set up a dining hall and prepared a healthy meal for the occasion. The meal was prepared as part of HCI’s Farm to School project — where school-aged children receive nutritious meals, learn about the path from farm to fork and are provided with essential information on healthy eating habits. After an active afternoon of fun and games, the children looked quite happy to take a short break for lunch and refreshments.

Jabal AkroumAs the children got back on the buses to be transported to the port of Tripoli for the final stop of the day, their excitement was palpable and justified; many of them had never ventured far from their villages in the mountain and had only heard about the sea in stories or seen it on television. Once at the port, they observed their surroundings with awe as they walked along the shore and saw the fishermen at work. When it came time for them to take a boat ride along the coast, awe turned into pure unbridled elation. The children’s happiness was so intense that it was contagious; all the on looking boatmen and fishermen seemed to be wearing smiles almost as broad as those of the children.

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Oct 282009
 

Every child deserves to be healthy; the proverb “healthy body, healthy mind” says it all; access to a good nutritious meal and developing healthy eating habits are vital for every child’s well being. In 2009, HCI introduced the “Farm to School Program” in Lebanon, where small scale farmers, low income students, and unemployed women living in rural areas were all linked in a holistic socio-economical cycle. The approach of the program has proven its efficiency and is a great success as stated by the beneficiaries themselves. To this date, hundreds of school-aged children have received several nutritious meals, learned about the path from farm to fork and have been provided with basic necessary information on healthy eating habits.

The program was specifically designed to target low income school-aged children, most of which are direct victims of war and scarcity and have to bear the difficult consequences of violence and deprivation that affects them and their families on many levels; whether on the income provided by the head of the family or on the quality of their meals at home. Dietary deficiencies can affect short-term health, increasing the risk of dental problems, obesity and anemia. In the long term, poor diet may increase the risk of coronary heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Some cancers are believed to relate to a low intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. Under-nutrition, even in its milder forms can have detrimental effects on cognitive development, behavior, concentration and school performance.

While implementing the Farm to School Program it was evident that complementary awareness raising activities concerning education and health should be implemented with the parents and care givers of these children giving them valuable essential tips on: healthy eating practices, food safety, hygiene and how to promote healthy eating and lifestyle habits, that can last a lifetime through specially designed engaging workshops and printed materials; Human Concern International is proud to announce the completion of the “Sohatak Bel Deni” manual, providing parents, teachers and caregivers with detailed essential information about cooking healthy food at low cost among other things.

The specially designed manual is a result of research done by a team of nutritionists and agricultural engineers and takes into consideration the access of the low income households to certain food items, as much as it takes in consideration the lack of access of these families to healthy living choices, and the common misconceptions about what is nutritive and what is not. The manual explains the ABC’s of what is healthy and what is not in an accessible format, it should be noted that the manual is not designed to alter the lifestyle of these families, but rather to reorganize their eating habits while keeping their financial budget intact.

The thirty-one-page Arabic manual is full of valuable information; from easy to understand food pyramids to recommendations on healthy eating habits such as consuming Omega 3 rich foods at least twice a week, from food safety advice such as the best way to handle and store poultry, to healthy cooking practices such as the use of vegetable oils instead of traditional ghee. A menu suggestion with recipes for healthy versions of traditional foods such as Okra stew and yoghurt salad is also included, each with its own calorie, Protein and carbohydrate breakdown. HCI did not forget to include an activity page for the children to color and have fun while learning.

Human Concern International is proud to publish and distribute this resource to enable communities, schools and caregivers to plan better meals for their children and by doing so contribute to their general overall physical and mental health and to their school attendance. The Arabic manual will be launched in various low income and rural locations around Lebanon, complemented with specially formulated awareness raising sessions held by qualified nutritionists; it can also be downloaded here free-of-charge in PDF format (7.74 MB): Sohatak Bel Deni Manual

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Oct 142009
 

Every Palestinian woman and family have a story to tell, many of these stories reflect the profound sadness of Gaza’s own story; stories about the healing of wounds, about deprivation, about women struggling to support families and most of all about keeping hope alive. HCI is acutely aware of this nations suffering and follows the situation vigilantly, taking any and every opportunity to intervene despite the countless obstacles and limitations.

Our interventions may be large scale such as rehabilitating war damaged schools or small scale such as honoring the tradition of a community which we serve. This year, in the Holy month of Ramadan, in the aftermath of a devastating war, there was no community in greater need of support and kindness then that of Gaza’s destitute. When HCI decided to distribute food packages to the needy, the war-affected people of Gaza did not have to stand in long queues. HCI’s team made up of tens of volunteers went door to door and personally delivered the much needed food items and listened to and made note of each family’s problems.

Behind Jamila’s Door

Jamila Al Shaikh Khalil’s door was one of the doors we knocked on. She is seventy years old; she has been a widow for forty years now. When her husband passed away, she was left to raise three children singlehandedly. Her family was shattered once more when her son died in an accident, after which her daughter lost the ability to speak and remained in a dazed and catatonic state. Jamila’s two older sisters also live with her; they are frail, and unable to walk. They need monthly medical attention and a lot of care.

After many words of gratitude, Jamila told us that there are many marginalized women like her in Gaza, with nothing to fight hardship and disease with but prayer and patience. She told us that the food package we have given her will help ease the incredible economic burden on her family for the next coming weeks; she tells us that we have given her hope, and she asks God to bless HCI for having compassion and helping the needy.

Behind Maher’s Door

Maher Aloush and his family are one of HCI’s beneficiaries residing in the Shati’ Camp. He and his seven family members currently live in a small rundown 2-bedroom house. His five children suffer from several debilitating illnesses that require continuous medical support, and his youngest six-month old daughter suffers from malnutrition. It is worth noting that Maher Aloush also suffers from heart problems aggravated by his stressful living conditions.

The Shati’ (literally meaning Shore) Camp where the Aloush family live is considered to be one of the poorest camps in the Gaza Strip. As you walk through the alleys of the camp you notice that the air grows heavier and damp, and your lungs fill up with the stench of polluted sea water and raw sewage.

The camp has not only been gravely affected by the imposed blockade but the residents have been collectively living in extreme poverty for years since fishing, the main source for income generation, was officially banned and declared illegal by the Israeli Authorities. Since then, unemployment rates have soared to unprecedented levels, only to be exacerbated by the recent siege.

General nutrition has also been gravely undermined as a result of the fishing ban. In the past, poor families unable to afford meat and chicken would fish. Today, they are denied the basic privilege of eating well. Environment and health hazards have also become an increasing concern in the camp. Even before the imposed blockade, supplies necessary to equip and maintain the solid waste station have been denied by the authorities putting the residents’ health in serious risk and causing substantial damage to the environment.

Considering the gravity of the situation, HCI identified the Shati’ Camp as a high priority area within Gaza, with a large number of family beneficiaries partaking in most of HCI’s initiatives.

In an attempt to contribute to the livelihood and wellbeing of this family, HCI has ensured the involvement of Maher Aloush and his family in as many initiatives as possible. The family for example, was one of the many recipients of the Ramadan distributions, receiving a parcel containing several food and non-food items. Also, Maher was offered temporary employment during the Kindergarten Rehabilitation program which helped provisionally relieve the family of its dire financial situation.

HCI continues to support the Aloush family, the residents of the Shati’ Camp and the Gaza Strip and hopes to reach out to thousands more in need. HCI is committed to the struggle of keeping hope alive in the hearts and minds of every Gazan.

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Oct 072009
 

Ramadan 09For the Muslim world, the month of Ramadan is traditionally a time for inner reflection, devotion to God, self control, and fasting from sunrise to sunset. It is also a particularly joyous time when relatives and friends invite each other over to gather around a table and break the fast together-Iftar-and above all a time of giving and feeling for the poor. The tradition of fasting is one that makes people all over the world feel with those who are hungry, with those who are destitute. In Ramadan, HCI takes the opportunity to honor these valued traditions while continuing to extend help to the poor and needy in the communities they serve; in the Arab world alone it is estimated that 65 million people live below the poverty line and about 11 million people suffer from malnutrition with 12.7 percent of children under the age of five being underweight. HCI is painfully aware of these statistics and has been dedicatedly engaged in battling poverty, disaster and despair here for over 20 years.

This Ramadan, like many Ramadans before, in villages, towns and cities all over The Arab world, HCI has reached out to many disadvantaged communities in the true Ramadan spirit; hundreds of traditional healthy Ramadan meals have been served to those the most in need of help and support. In addition, specially designed care packages that contain food items such as rice, dried beans, sugar and dried fruit that the families can make use of throughout Ramadan have been distributed by HCI to help ease the economic burden on these families while being as nutritionally beneficial as possible. HCI’s selection criteria direct food allocation to low-income, large, and single-parent families, particularly if the single parent is a woman or person with special needs.

Ramadan 09 GazaGAZA STRIP

In Gaza City, HCI organized an Iftar for war affected farmers and their families who have been supported by HCI to establish their own farming businesses. One hundred and fifty people came together to share the success of what HCI introduced into their lives, out of destruction these people have managed to reestablish their livelihoods, it is impressive; It has been nine months since the last Israeli Operation here and 3 years into a stifling siege, life for Gazans is characterized by chronic unemployment, infrequent access to power and water, health hazards stemming from inadequate sewage system, and sub-standard housing with thousands living in tents or the rubble of their former homes. When it was time for the distribution of food packages to the needy, the war affected people of Gaza did not have to stand in long queues this year, HCI’s team made up of tens of volunteers went door to door and personally delivered the much needed food items and listened to and made note of each family’s problems.

Ramadan 09 West BankTHE WEST BANK

Life has not improved for many of the Palestinians living in the West Bank since the construction of the separation wall that has severed communities, people’s access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities. In keeping with its commitment to help where it is needed, HCI’s presence was also felt in the West Bank this Ramadan; in the Central District of the West Bank we organized food package distributions for low income families with persons having special needs.

Ramadan 09 SudanSUDAN

In the Salama settlement, south of the capital Khartoum there are about eleven thousand internally displaced people who have fled the violence in the south and west of their country. Here they face chronic poverty, high unemployment, and many health problems. Iftars were organized for them here as well as in the north and west of Khartoum in similar settlements. The distribution of hundreds of much needed “goodwill” or “fasting” food packages as they are called in Sudan were implemented all over the capital as well.

Ramadan 09 SudanSince it is also close to the time when school fees must be paid and school supplies must be purchased, to ease the economic burden on these mostly single mother headed households, and inspired by our firm belief in education as a form of empowerment, we have also prepared back to school items to be distributed to several community schools around the capital. Our Iftars and packages may not seem enough compared to what these communities require, but they address an immediate and pressing need, hopefully with more funding in the future we will be able to do more, for now at least these settlers know that they have not been forgotten.

Ramadan 09 EgyptEGYPT

Kalabsha El-Jedida, Bashayer el-Kheir, New Tomas and ‘Afia village are new Egyptian settlements west of Lake Nasser; they were conceived as part of the government’s plan to resettle one million people around Lake Nasser by 2017 to green the desert. Several of these small agricultural communities have already sprouted up in this desolate land, but the lack of basic amenities has so far been a hindering factor in this project realizing its true potential. Yet even in the face of enduring hardship, these vulnerable and marginalized settlers from all over the country are determined to make a future for themselves and for their families. This year, HCI in collaboration with local partners made sure that 400 of the poorest households in these settlements took home a food package that would be a source nourishment and economic relief.

Ramadan 09 EgyptIn the two days of distribution, work was continuous around the clock to ensure the timely delivery of the food parcels. The New Tomas and ‘Afia village are quite far; approximately 270 km south of the nearest city, Aswan. Making this journey in the morning with the scorching heat was quite challenging for the team but after Iftar as we drank cold water and ate dates, allowing their sweetness to awaken our blood sugar and digestion, we felt inspired to see firsthand the courage and will of these settlers determinedly building a new life for themselves under difficult conditions, and we felt happy to have played a small role in their narrative which will undoubtedly prove to be a success story.

Ramadan 09 LebanonLEBANON

In Lebanon, one hundred and fifty physically handicapped individuals and their families from all over the country participated in an Iftar organized by HCI in partnership with the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union. In the hopes of making their Iftar a memorable one, a carefully selected wheelchair friendly venue was selected for the event and a Hakawati, a traditional storyteller, was at hand to volunteer and entertain these families with inspirational tales; the human connection between the storyteller and the audience creates a sort of friendship, and thus the stories told become more believable and accepted. This makes the message or the advice hidden within the story more influential to their lives.

Ramadan 09 LebanonIn the northern city of Tripoli, one of the poorest cities on the Mediterranean coast with an alarmingly high number of single mother headed homes as a result of war and conflict, HCI organized a series of Iftars and distributions; food packets were distributed to needy families in the north and three hundred orphans and their families were invited by HCI to break their fast together over a period of three days. We are pleased to report that the normally quiet Ramadan evenings in Tripoli were filled with laughter and the sounds that children generally make when they are having fun. Furthermore, HCI organized an Iftar in the high and remote village of Jabal Akroum for the needy local families.

IRAQI REFUGEES

Ramadan 09 Iraqi RefugeesIt is estimated that Jordan hosts over 500,000 Iraqi refugees, the majority of which are without residency permits and unable to work legally, they are often fearful of seeking out official forms of aid. They largely confine themselves to their homes because of economic constraints, disabilities and concerns about their legal status. Access to educational and health services remain limited. Every day is a struggle to hold their families together with very little means. And even though their future is uncertain and their current situation is grim, going back home is out of the question; home is where they saw the destruction of their communities and the constant threat of violence, torture and extortion. Growing numbers are living at or below the poverty line. The resources of many families have dwindled to almost nothing and this creates concern about the simplest things, like how they will feed their children each night.

This year, HCI’s team in Amman distributed hundreds of food packages to mostly widow headed Iraqi families. Not only did these families receive temporary relief to their economic burden but their dignity remained intact, and they felt cared for.

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Jul 302009
 

Farm to SchoolThe “Farm to School program brings healthy food from local farms to thousands of poor school-aged children in low-income remote villages. Moreover, the program teaches students about healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime. In addition, the use of local products in school meals and educational activities provides a new direct market for local low-income farmers. It also provides local women with temporary jobs in food preparation,” explained Abdo Raad — the director of Saint Saveur School and Orphanage. The school, located in the city of Joun, south of Lebanon is home to 70 orphans and vulnerable children and hosts 150 school children.

“It is a win-win situation for everyone,” he concluded during the inauguration ceremony of the kitchen supported by the German Embassy in Lebanon, as well as the opening of the third Lebanese-Palestinian youth summer camp which hosts Palestinian youth from camps in Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

“We thank HCI for this important initiative which is vital for the revival of low-income remote areas,” commented H.E.M Brigitta Eberly, the German Ambassador to Lebanon who attended the ceremony.

The German Embassy in Lebanon contributed over $16,000 to equip the kitchen at the premises of the school/orphanage which will help HCI’s Farm to School project expand its scale and scope to reach out to other schools and orphanages in nearby villages, which is expected to benefit more than 700 children during the summer of 2009.

Farm to SchoolThe inauguration ceremony was attended by H.E. Mrs. Bahia Hariri, Minister of Education and Higher Education and H.E. Mr. Mario Aoun, Minister for Social Affairs.

“Cause and Identity” is the theme of this year’s Lebanese-Palestinian youth summer camp which coincides with the celebration of Jerusalem as the 2009 Arab Capital of Culture. The 40 Lebanese and Palestinian youth come from different regions in Lebanon and from Palestinian camps in Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

“Building bridges and trust and creating a platform for dialogue and sharing among Lebanese and Palestinian youth is the main objective of this summer camp,” H.E. Mrs. Hariri, the President of the Hariri Foundation for Human Sustainable Development (HFHSD), explained during a discussion with the participants. HFHSD is sponsoring of the summer camp.

The Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education has been actively working in the past two years on integrating health and wellbeing topics into the Lebanese school curriculum, especially for elementary school students. “HCI’s successful Farm to School project which promotes healthy eating habits for school-aged children is a significant initiative that the Ministry of Education should consider adopting to improve student health,” suggested, Rabih Yazbeck, HCI’s Regional Director, during a conversation with the participants. “We hope that the summer camp’s attendees will benefit from our initiative, and take what they’ve learned back to their families and help bring awareness in their surrounding environment,” Mr. Yazbeck concluded.

The Farm to School Project was launched this March in two regions in Lebanon. To this date, thousands of school-aged children have learned about the path from farm to fork and healthy eating habits.

The program desires to support community-based food systems, strengthen family farms, and provide jobs for vulnerable women and nutrition for poor students hence contributing towards their health and well-being.

The family farm owners will have a chance of securing a steady income, the students will be motivated to get an education, and the unemployed women will have the opportunity of working and generating income. These benefits are not limited to economy and education, but also affect the overall morale of the residents.

On the long-term, the program will introduce waste management programs like composting, and experiential education opportunities such as planting school gardens, cooking demonstrations and farm tours.

What we are witnessing here are the combined efforts of the public and private sectors, and the civil society, local and international. These initiatives transcend all national, religious, and racial differences and have one aim in mind, the well-being of our children and families. At the end, humanity is the bridge that connects us all, and it lies ahead in anticipation of the courageous many who will attempt to cross it.

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