Editors’ note: The COVID-19 pandemic has made Lebanon’s socioeconomic and political situation even more complex. In this audio report, Doreen Abi Raad reminds us additionally that the Lebanese people are still trying to overcome and rebuild after the massive explosion at the Beirut port last August — a situation that has fallen from the headlines in the midst of the global health crisis. Listen to her audio report or read the transcript below.
Lebanon has reached a breaking point. I can see it in the weariness of the people, discouraged, burdened by hardships. Day by day, more are slipping into poverty, a reality now for more than 50 percent of the population, as Lebanon struggles with its worst economic crisis in modern history.
Unemployment keeps rising. Coronavirus pandemic lockdown measures worsen the economic situation. The last straw was the 4 August catastrophic explosion at the Beirut Port, one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in global history.
The lives of refugees and migrant workers in Lebanon are also shattered by the country’s collapse. The Shandekh family, Syriac Catholics from Iraq, have been lingering in Lebanon for more than five years, hoping to be resettled to a western country. Mr. Shandekh has no work.
They are among 214 Syriac Catholic Iraqi refugee families helped by the Holy Family Syriac Center in the crowded Beirut suburb of Sad el Baouchrieh. These families were uprooted by the Islamic State in Iraq.
“We are so thankful for how the church cares for us,” Mrs. Shandekh says.
She and her husband just want to move to a safe place to give their three daughters a better future. Their unfailing trust in the Lord is what sustains them. Their modest apartment is nearly five miles from the Beirut Port. Even so, they experienced injuries and damages during the horrific explosion.
Mrs. Shandekh, with a gentle, courageous determination, is not one to complain. Yet, she admits, “We are so tired.”
Closer to the port, Gemmayze and Mar Mikhail, which mean St. Michael, are two of the worst-hit neighborhoods by the explosion. The largely Christian areas were vibrant, known for their Old-World charm, a colorful mix of residences, cafes, pubs, shops and offices. The devastation is shocking. Three months after the tragedy, some buildings still look like skeletons.
The office where Tessie Andros worked as a cleaner was destroyed, as was her apartment. She is convinced that the Lord spared her life during the disaster and is thankful, despite being homeless and jobless. Tessie worries how she will support her children back home in the Philippines — her only reason for working in Lebanon for the last 16 years.
Through all her struggles, Tessie holds onto her faith, nourished by the Jesuit priests at the St. Joseph Church in Beirut and the Afro-Asian Migrant Center there. St. Joseph’s also suffered considerable damage from the explosion.
Tessie is one of approximately 250 recipients of the center’s distribution of basic food stuffs for migrant workers suffering during Lebanon’s deepening crisis. With each passing day, the needs keep increasing for all the people in Lebanon.