Making Face Masks Generates Income for Beddawi Camp Residents
In light of the unprecedented and suffocating circumstances prevailing in Lebanon, the National Arab American Medical Association has partnered with Anera to support the most vulnerable.
Lebanon has a long history with refugees. For centuries, this tiny piece of land has borne witness to the travails of people compelled to flee. Its people are refugees themselves: Christians who fled Syria in the Ottoman era, the Palestinians forced out of Palestine, and the Armenians who sought safety in its camps. Neighboring Syria was once the home of many Lebanese families and vice versa.
Today, Lebanon, a country that is geographically smaller than Connecticut, holds the highest per capita refugee population in the world. The nation is struggling with weak governance, economic collapse, and a public health sector unable to manage a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, especially in the large and over populated Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps.
During this escalating national crisis, humanitarian relief is more urgent than ever. In light of the unprecedented and suffocating circumstances prevailing in Lebanon, the National Arab American Medical Association has partnered with Anera to support the most vulnerable. The organization promotes the professional development and cultural identity of health care professionals in the U.S. with roots or affinity to the Arab world through educational, philanthropic and service activities.
NAAMA’s support for humanitarian relief in Lebanon compliments Anera’s nationwide program, implemented in partnership with UNICEF. The program addresses the shortage of PPE material in Lebanon by producing non-medical protective face masks while providing young people with short-term employment at a time when jobs are extremely scarce.
Anera partners with local organizations to provide vocational training in sewing and mask production. We hire both the trainers and the vocational students from vulnerable Lebanese or refugee communities to ensure that the program is generating income in these communities.
Anera oversees the production and delivery of environmentally friendly, washable and reusable face masks. Not only are these young people earning money and helping to support their families, they are also gaining a valued skill in the local job market, which will continue to confer opportunities in the future.
Abdul Nasser is one of these vocational students. He is a 22-year-old Lebanese man who had to drop out of school in the fourth grade because his family could no longer afford to pay the basic expenses that allow him to continue learning. His younger sister was seriously ill and the family, like many families here, had to make a painful choice between health and education.
Following the protests that began in October and the pandemic lockdown, his father and two older siblings lost their day labor jobs. His family of nine was left with no income for months. They depended solely on their minimal savings and the kindness of extended family and neighbors for survival.
Fortunately, Abdul Nasser joined one of Anera’s vocational sewing courses and then found full-time employment sewing masks.
“Had it not been for this course, my family and I would have ended up on the streets. I cannot blame our landlord. He has a family to feed and depends on our rent. I hate asking for help but I had to visit one of my relatives and ask for 400,000 Lebanese liras [the equivalent of several hundred dollars] but he refused to lend me the money, because he can’t guarantee that I'll be able to pay him back. I couldn't take no for an answer. I I told him that I have a job now, making face masks at a factory. I assured him that I will pay him back and he finally agreed. I bought us another month of having a home. I did the same with the grocery owner and got milk and diapers for my sister.
“I do not know how this happened, how I got lucky and joined the program. But it gave me hope. It feels good to be able to support your family. I walk on foot to the factory every day. I live in Beddawi camp, but the factory is in Mina, which means I walk almost 12 kilometers every day. This way I can buy bread with my transportation money. Despite everything I am going through, one day God will make it better for us. We have to stay hopeful, because without hope we lose the meaning of life.”
Thanks to NAAMA’s generous support, young people like Abdul have produced 50,000 face masks in Lebanon. Anera distributes them to communities and health partners. We recently delivered 9,000 masks to Beddawi camp, which has experienced a rise in COVID-19 cases. Anera donated the masks to primary health care centers in the camp run by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, as well as to a Scouts group providing social services and urgent relief in Beddawi area.