Providing More Than Food for Those in Need

Editors’ note: Alicia Medina brought us our first ONE feature in Spanish, in which she reports food insecurity is hitting an increasing number of Lebanon’s families. “Líbano, un País de Neveras Vacías” (“Lebanon, a Country of Empty Refrigerators”) tells of the efforts to bring relief to those most in need. For English readers, Alicia provides an audio report of her experience, bringing us the voices of those whose lives have descended into poverty. The struggle is real, she reports, and ultimately it is a struggle for human dignity. Listen to Alicia’s report. A full transcript follows.

When was the last time you ate meat? This may seem to be a light question, but it’s not. 

Lebanon has been hit by an unprecedented economic crisis that has left hundreds of thousands facing food insecurity. Eating meat is almost a luxury these days. 

I traveled to Deir el Ahmar in northern Lebanon to the refugee camp in Dbayeh, Dbayeh town near Beirut, to report on how CNEWA’s partners are distributing food boxes.

Lebanese Palestinians, Syrian refugees — they have all been hit. Salaries are not even enough to pay the electricity bill. And in the absence of any sort of welfare state –or even a state really — people in Lebanon are left to fend for themselves. 

As a journalist, some days I feel like an intruder in other people’s lives, but here I am sitting in their living rooms asking if they eat meat, when what I’m really asking is how they are coping with food insecurity. Their answers are heartbreaking.

“Meat? Forget about it,” tells me Jessica, while laughing. 

Her neighbor, Zahra, she rolls her eyes up. She tells me even the onions are expensive for her. And then there is Salwa, who is 83 years old and does not lose her sense of humor.

“I eat meat every day,” she says, making everyone in the room laugh. 

Then I met Randa, who was left paraplegic during the war. She had managed until now to make a living drawing on porcelain, but this crisis has pushed her to be in need of humanitarian assistance. And then it’s really heartwarming to see how she does not lose her hope.

Children at a refugee camp in Dbayeh, Lebanon, are among the beneficiaries of a food box program, supported by CNEWA.
Children at a refugee camp in Dbayeh, Lebanon, are among the beneficiaries of a food box program, supported by CNEWA. (photo: Raghida Skaff)

When I went to the Dbayeh refugee camp, I sat with Soeur Magdalena (“soeur” is French for sister and is the title the people use to address the nun), a 77-year-old Belgian nun that has lived in the camp since 1987. She explained to me that the material needs are dire, but we shouldn’t forget about the psychological needs. Life has become difficult and the pressure on the families is very high.

While talking to Soeur Magdalena, a child enters in the house asking for help because he has a cut in his finger. Soeur Magadelena smiles. She’s happy to help. Lebanon is living dark days, but people like Soeur Magdalena, Rita, Elias, the priests Youhanna and Shadi, they are all working to bring a bit of oxygen to those and need it. 

Because it’s not about the food basket, it’s about dignity.

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