Journalist Raed Rafei shares some impressions of Lebanon after covering a story about refugees there for the Spring 2015 edition of ONE magazine:
It has become a very familiar chorus of complaint in Lebanon. “There are no more jobs anymore. The Syrians took them all.” So before I started reporting on the story, I was aware of the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis on the job market and people’s morale in Lebanon.
I knew that the poor classes in the country have been particularly suffering because of the crisis. But I did not know the extent of the problem until I spoke to families struggling on a daily basis to send their children to school and put food on their plates.
I heard many heart-breaking stories of families receiving warnings from schools because they were not paying tuition fees and subsequently had to keep their children at home for days until they could pay. There were also many stories of families who could not afford their rent anymore and who were scared of losing homes they lived in for decades, in some cases.
What touched me most was to see people keeping a very tidy and even elegant appearance knowing that in reality they were worried about sleeping hungry. These were people who were able to sustain themselves and even live rather comfortably few years ago but who are, today, increasingly uncertain of the future.
I was particularly moved by the sad look of Tony, an impoverished contractor, who is anxious about the possibility of having to move his daughter from a private school to a public one. Children’s education is still the single most highly valued thing for Lebanese parents. Public schools in the country can be notoriously bad. So most parents pay a large part of their income to ensure that their children receive the best education possible at private institutions.
I was also unsettled by Marlene’s story. She is a struggling nurse who went into debt to ensure that her daughter gets a good college education. Marlene keeps an elegant wardrobe despite her meager income. She told me that she hasn’t bought any new clothing items for a very long time. She said that her sister gives her some of her clothes after wearing them for a little while.
I think the most challenging moment was asking people how they saw the future. Most of the time, they responded with blank looks as if they had been avoiding thinking about that. Most said they just lived one day at a time.
Despite this bleak picture, many of those I interviewed seemed resilient. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that several said that they did not wish to leave the country despite their hardships. They said the thought that Christian minorities were being driven out of Syria and Iraq made them even more determined to stay in the land of their ancestors.
To learn more, read “Lebanon on the Brink” in the Spring 2015 edition of ONE.