Anera’s Lebanon Work in the COVID-19 Era

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“What does it mean when you shut down a country that was already impoverished and broken?”

This is the question Anera’s country director Samar El Yassir poses.

Employees from a disinfection company sanitize a bench as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus in Beirut March 5, 2020. The number of cases is steadily increasing in Lebanon, which announced its second death from Covid-19 March 11. (CNS photo/Mohamed Azakir, Reuters)

No one knows the answer yet, but, based on the facts we know, it can’t be good. Most businesses are closed, which means that day laborers, drivers, and many others have absolutely no income and have immediately fallen lower in the poverty pit. In the meantime, over a million refugees live in overcrowded camps with little to eat, limited health care, and difficult hygiene conditions. And Lebanon has no safety net programs to help people.

A crowded working-class neighborhood in Tripoli, Lebanon. COVID-19 can spread fast in an environment like this.

Just as we did in response to the ongoing protests that started in October, we are pivoting our programs to respond to the changing circumstances.

COVID-19 awareness raising campaign

One of Anera’s priorities in Lebanon over the next two weeks is COVID-19 prevention and support for a national stay-at-home campaign.

We will be sharing daily videos and simple written instructions, through social channels and WhatsApp, that promote helpful guidance on topics like properly sanitizing items, hand washing, social distancing and exercising at home.

Three Anera teams in Lebanon  – (1) water and sanitation, (2) solid waste management, and (3) youth life skills  – have combined forces. They will work with our local partners to create a WhatsApp communications tree that likely will reach hundreds of thousands of refugees, host communities and other vulnerable populations. This is a very effective technique for sharing that Lebanon protesters perfected.

Anera is also exploring setting up both community support centers and a Q&A platform for people to get answers and address local needs.

Education programming going online

Anera has run online education programs before in Lebanon. In a partnership with Arizona State University, Anera provided English language courses online in 2018.

Anera delivers non-formal education programs throughout Lebanon. Normally they are in-person. COVID-19 and the national instructions for people to stay in their homes mean that we have to find new ways to reach people.

We are now exploring options for transitioning our basic literacy and math, English language, and financial literacy courses to an online system. We are beginning to pilot the approach in several regions around the country. Anera will run two classes of 10 to 20 students in each area. All students will receive a tablet, since they have very few resources of their own. In the pilots, Anera will test the effectiveness of communication, given the poor internet connectivity in Lebanon, and the quality of learning and sharing. 

Delivering relief

Anera distributed relief packages to Syrian refugees in a tented settlement located in Arsal, Lebanon during the harsh winter of 2018-19.

Our medical donation and humanitarian relief programs continue and seem to grow more vital by the day. Anera routinely distributes life-saving medicines that treat the kinds of diseases that make people vulnerable to COVID-19: diabetes, asthma, and hypertension.

We also have shipments of medical and hygiene supplies already on their way which will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The donated items include N95 respirator masks, soap, sanitizer, medical gloves, and other protective supplies. One shipment will go to the Lebanese Red Cross to help them in their efforts transferring patients with COVID-19 to hospitals. The other will go to Rafiq Harriri Government Hospital, which is the main facility treating coronavirus patients. Anera will also  be locally procuring items that will help the country’s overstretched health care system prepare for cases of COVID-19.

In addition, we are currently working on assembling three 40-foot containers full of hygiene and baby care kits, school supplies, and blankets. We will also locally procure community and individual hygiene and disinfection supplies to deliver to municipalities and individuals.

Moving forward

This is a global pandemic that has impacted every community’s health, social and economic well-being. The full scope and ramifications of this virus are impossible to fully predict but we are particularly concerned about the threat it poses to people already on the brink. In a small country like Lebanon, every action counts.

Samira holding a sample hygiene kit in Burj El Barajneh Palestinian Refugee Camp, Lebanon.
Samira holding a sample hygiene kit in Burj El Barajneh Palestinian Refugee Camp, Lebanon.

Anera is currently fundraising to provide hygiene kits for refugees, so they can follow recommended health guidelines during this global pandemic. Living in close quarters with very little infrastructure, or even homes, they are at particular risk. We will also be delivering generous parcels of food during Ramadan.

During this global crisis, we are more committed than ever to standing in solidarity with the people of Lebanon and supporting the most vulnerable among us.

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