From Development to Emergency Relief in Lebanon
Photo by Linda Shaker Berbari
Beirut, Lebanon (IOCC) “To see your country destroyed over and over again in less than a generation puts you in a position of despair. Luckily, the Lebanese have a gift of forgetting and starting over again.” With words that are courageous and strangely lighthearted in the midst of the complete devastation of her country, IOCC Beirut Program Coordinator Linda Shaker Berbari was one of the key individuals on the ground managing IOCC’s relief effort to displaced families from the besieged villages of Southern Lebanon.
IOCC is one of the best positioned humanitarian aid organizations on the ground in Lebanon. Since 2001, IOCC has been implementing a USDA-funded school feeding and education program in Beirut, Mount Lebanon, the South and the North, serving a total of 242 schools and 45,000 students. When war broke out, the IOCC Beirut staff turned what was essentially a development initiative into an emergency relief program for thousands of displaced Lebanese families. Many of those families took shelter in the schools that hosted IOCC’s programs. IOCC coordinated relief efforts with municipalities and Orthodox priests in villages and towns where distribution is taking place. Trucks that normally distributed the IOCC public school meals were used to distribute the emergency aid. Repacking and handling took place in the St. Joseph Technical School, where school meals were normally packaged and stored. The Beirut office was also able to use the network of food suppliers to procure food and hygiene items, a particular challenge given the security situation.
IOCC began its relief efforts in the Maten and Alley areas of Mount Lebanon, providing $100,000 worth of food and hygiene parcels to displaced families. Church World Service has pledged 5,000 hygiene kits, 500 collapsible water containers and hundreds of wool blankets to IOCC’s relief efforts.
“I think IOCC is distinctive in its approach because in addition to providing basic food and hygiene supplies, we are also providing educational materials about ways to relieve stress and the importance of food and personal hygiene,” says Berbari. “This will help families cope better with their environment and prevent problems that might arise due to poor hygienic practices.”
It was especially gratifying for Berbari when she discovered that some of the families taking refuge used to send their children to Al Chasid Abdel Karim, a school in Southern Beirut that participated in the IOCC feeding and education program. “The mothers and children were so happy to see the IOCC team,” says Berbari, “and they immediately started thanking IOCC for their constant generosity and even offered coffee and tea.”