CNEWA Canada

Voices From the Pandemic: Caring for the Poor in Lebanon

Sister Marie Justine el Osta is the director of the Socio-Medical Intercommunity Dispensary in Nabaa, Lebanon, which CNEWA has long supported.

At a time when people have been forcibly separated from each other and detained in their homes, we are witnessing increasing miseries and cries of mothers and families in the midst of the economic, social and humanitarian crisis in Lebanon. But at the same time, we see humanitarian initiatives that bring people together in a gesture of solidarity towards all those in need. 

Our center is one of the oldest active socio-medical centers in Bourj Hammoud-Nabaa area (a poor suburb of Beirut) established in 1968. What makes it different is that respect for human beings is a priority; we serve with no discrimination regarding race or religion, keeping pace with the human reality and the current developments of the needs and demands of people, whether at the medical or social level. Throughout the years, we have been serving the marginalized and vulnerable people — mainly the forgotten elderly, widows, mothers and children — providing them with medical aid, bread and hot meals, as well as recreational and spiritual activities, all through the good will of benefactors, including generous donors from CNEWA.  

The crisis began prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, about seven years ago, following wars in Syria and Iraq, when we saw bread earners being laid off from their work and replaced by foreign low-waged workers. With time and worsening economic conditions, the situation got worse. We have seen more and more people falling into extreme poverty. By September, 420 families were in need for all basics of living. The number increased to 684 families following the outbreak of COVID-19.

In time, the echoes of these women and families turned into cries of hunger and helplessness, shaking the conscience. Accordingly, we held emergency meetings with the center’s medical and social teams to determine how to deal with the growing crisis and develop an action plan to respond. But the challenges have been so big — mainly, how to respond to the increasing huge needs of the families who are approaching us daily and asking for food, bread and medical care.

We have seen a family of 13 persons having only bread as their daily meal, with only one hot meal per week. On a daily basis, we lived with our people, shared their pain and sufferings, but we did not give up. As servants of God, we have huge responsibilities towards these impoverished people. We reached out to everyone, asking for donations.

“Amidst all this darkness, anxiety and fear, we felt God’s presence. He is there — walking with us, holding our hands, asking us to be strong, persistent and to continue doing what we should do.”

Sister Marie Justine el Osta

Amidst all this darkness, anxiety and fear, we felt God’s presence. He is there — walking with us, holding our hands, asking us to be strong, persistent and to continue doing what we should do. I came to a belief that this virus has somehow played a role in restoring compassion among humans. With God’s support, people were generous and started providing whatever they could share to help their brothers and sisters in need. Those who could afford more gave more. We received grains in large quantities, bread, vegetables, poultry, meat and canned food. Youths volunteered to help in packaging and distributing food to all those in need.

However, the biggest challenge remained how to provide care to those who suffer from medical complications other than COVID-19. Hundreds of our patients who benefit from our medical care are chronically ill and need monthly medications; many others suffer from cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. With the measures launched by the government to fight COVID-19, all hospitals and public health support were mobilized towards fighting the virus. This meant neglecting or postponing other health issues, as if sentencing patients and all those who suffer from health problems to rapid death. Three women battling cancer were in need of hospital admission for treatment; unfortunately, the hospitals exceeded the limits imposed by the government, and thus the patients had to pay the cost themselves, which they could not afford. Through the medical program supported by CNEWA, we were able to provide them with the needed care. The interruption of medicines from the markets due to the high exchange of the dollar and the lack of local manufacturing was another challenge.

All that we did and keep doing, we do it in the name of Christ, who is risen from death. We do not lose faith in the One who saved us. Where the world sees God’s wrath and punishment with the COVID-19 virus, we see in his human and spiritual experience on earth, his crucifixion and death and then resurrection, the salvation for all mankind.

Despite all the darkness surrounding us, we as children of God do not lose hope and faith. We will continue to work with all the strengths we have to be witnesses of our Lord Jesus Christ during these difficult times, revealing our love for our savior in our daily work through loving our brothers and sisters.

This is a time of great challenge, a time where our faith is put to test. Let us all, hand in hand, help in circulating God’s love, mercy and forgiveness through our work.

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