30-year-old Fadia always wanted a family. A naturally loving and nurturing individual, she never thought motherhood would be so fraught with trials. She and her husband, a member of the Lebanese army, are parents to a four-year-old girl who has thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder, and a two-year-old boy with congenital problems.
Fadia, a high school diploma holder, used to work as an esthetician. But the wave of crises that has recently hit Lebanon, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and concomitant closures, has left her without a job. Her modest home is in poor condition. The children’s treatments are not covered by the insurance extended to military personnel and their families. And Fadia’s faith in nothing short of a miracle continues to wane.
Since October 2019, Lebanon has been reeling from devaluation of its currency as the lira lost more than 80% of its value against the US dollar. The majority of the population has slumped into poverty in what the World Bank describes as a “deliberate depression” due to the inaction and failed policies of political and financial authorities. Apart from economic stagnation, hyperinflation and the pandemic, Beirut was marred by a massive port blast in August 2020 that killed more than 200 people and wiped out swathes of the Mediterranean capital.
It is exactly these circumstances, threatening to debilitate hard-working yet misfortune-stricken folks like Fadia, which spawned the birth of Aleb. Literally translating to “heart” in Arabic, Aleb is an initiative incubated by LebNet in partnership with Lebanon-based NGO Al Majmoua in the wake of the Beirut explosions. LebNet, a North American nonprofit organization, enables tech entrepreneurs and professionals of Lebanese descent to thrive through education and networking, with a special emphasis on women in leadership roles. Aleb, perhaps a metaphor for the collective heart of the diaspora beating in sync with that of Lebanese locals, aims to provide sustained remittances from international donors to needy families in Lebanon.
(Taken from the house of one of the Aleb sponsored families. Photo credit: Dalia Khamissy)
"This is an extremely important initiative for us", said Sarjoun Skaff, cofounder of Aleb. "As expatriates, we feel powerless watching from afar as Lebanon's economy collapses dramatically with no obvious way to help. That's why we wanted to build a vehicle for our diaspora to actively and meaningfully support the homeland. Cash assistance is a very effective form of support, and complements existing in-kind programs, so we are excited to make it available to the world."
Here’s how it works. Aleb coordinates with Al Majmoua, originally founded in 1997, to source and pinpoint indigent families. In the pilot program, 39 candidate families were on-boarded on the Aleb website. Donors can review these details and decide which family to support directly through monthly contributions of US$ 200, plus a service fee of US$ 30, for a period of six months. Donors receive program updates and an impact report on how their funds are disbursed.
Now in the second phase of the program, Aleb has identified 36 additional families for immediate assistance. The US$ 200 monthly aid package is estimated as the minimal amount for a family to procure food, clothing and medication. Here are some testimonials by recipients on how Aleb has affected their lives.
“The first time I received money from Aleb, I used half of it to cover a previous debt. With the other half, I bought milk, medication for the kid, diapers and home essentials. Next month, I need to repair my refrigerator and the washing machine.” (Father of two children who resides with his wife, mother and sister in Aley. The father used to operate a school bus but is presently out of work.)
“My husband recently started working as a security guard. At home, the kitchen is incomplete, and we barely have any furniture. Some rooms lack electricity. With the second remittance, we paid off debts and bought sugar, milk, rice, beans, and baby diapers.” (Mother of two children who resides with her husband in Ain el Tineh. The couple previously ran a hair salon but was unable to renew the rent.)
Often, Lebanon comes under the critical lens of the media for the pain afflicting its denizens at the hands of a feckless government. As citizens of the world, we watch in horror and grieve as we witness just a fraction of their immeasurable hurt. Distance may render us powerless to come to their succor, but thanks to Aleb, our hearts can now beat as one in a gesture as modest as a few hundred dollars. By supporting one of these disadvantaged families, we – via Aleb – can make a huge dent in their lives and help them provide for their posterity.
[Disclamer: The name has been changed to protect the privacy of the featured individual.]--
Author: Danielle Issa is a Lebanese-American writer, blogger and strategy consultant who has called Lebanon home for the past ten years. A native of southern California, she worked for seven years in strategic development at a leading Lebanese bank. Today, she resides in the suburbs of Beirut with her husband and two little boys, juggling motherhood and writing, while managing her internationally acclaimed culture and lifestyle blog Beirutista.co, founded in 2012. Ms. Issa holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT (Boston) and an MBA from Collège des Ingénieurs (Paris).