CNEWA

Lebanon in Crisis: Giving Food, and Much More, in Beirut

A longtime member of CNEWA-Pontifical Mission’s Beirut team, Norma Rizk is a social worker who also manages the office’s longstanding microcredit program. 

Saint Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed only one.” In other words, in any social intervention neither the number nor the quantity but the will and the action matter.

On 16 September, CNEWA-Pontifical Mission distributed food packages at the Syriac Catholic Center located in Sad El Baouchrieh, an overcrowded neighborhood on the outskirts of Beirut.

Syriac Catholic Father Rony Salim, assisted by four young men from his parish, took charge in distributing the food parcels addressed mainly to 214 of the neediest families, all Iraqis seeking refuge in Lebanon. The parish priest was familiar with the conditions of each family thanks to a monthly program of assistance to these same families. This program was launched last Christmas, following the financial crisis that rocked the country and continues to this day. This aid covers the medical and food needs of families and is sometimes allocated in the form of cash equivalents.

“The monthly aid granted by the Syriac Catholic Center is a means of raising awareness of the various families’ challenges and therefore a way to find suitable solutions,” he said of the program that was an initiative of Beirut’s Syriac Catholic community.

The distribution of the parcels, which was made possible in part thanks to a gift from Aid to the Church in Need, was orderly with proper protocols in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing and mask-wearing, as receipt documents were signed and retained. However, one young woman, all dressed in black, was approached by Father Rony, who asked her for news concerning her husband.

A spontaneous exchange between Khouloud and me revealed her unenviable situation. She had to flee Iraq in 2014 with her two little daughters, now ages 8 and 9, and her husband, who had lost a leg during an attack in Baghdad earlier. The family had taken up residence in a janitor’s room in Antelias, a neighborhood near our office, receiving a salary of 400, 000 LBP per month (about $265 US) in exchange for housework.

During her previous visit to the parish, Khouloud was poorly dressed, her clothes, according to Father Rony, were shabby, not even having the means to buy black clothes to mourn her father, who had recently died. Seeing such need, Father Rony personally provided her with the means to purchase some new clothes for her and her daughters.  

Giving of one’s self is the greatest form of giving we can offer, and Father Rony’s work provided a wonderful example.

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