“We left Ba’albak at 5 AM this morning.” Majd Bouhair declares as his friend Khalil Moussa ties a red balloon on his wrist.
It is a bright Sunday in Beirut’s downtown commercial district, and Khalil and Majd have come from Lebanon’s Bekaa valley to join thousands gathered to walk or run a ten-kilometer route through Lebanon’s capital city. “We heard about the marathon through the people we play football with at the youth center and decided to come check it out.”
The Beirut marathon has been promoting exercise and tourism since its inception seven years ago. This year many of the runners, including ANERA members and other Lebanese organizations, have come with a special message to promote a “Smoke Free Lebanon.”
“We start with the kids because it’s easier to convince them to participate in the long run,” says Susanne Diab who works with Tadamon Organization in Ein el Helweh refugee camp, a group supported by ANERA. She helps her 10-year old daughter Maria put on a white shirt with a crossed-out cigarette and arghileh, during which she comments, “A boy from our group says he wants to give the shirt to his dad because he is a smoker.”
Maria agrees with her daughter because her father is a smoker as well. “After learning about all the negative consequences, I also tell him to stop because I care about his health.” After attending a health fair in Saida last month, part of ANERA’s Creative Health Campaign (CHC), Maria is convinced that non-smoking is an important message to promote throughout Lebanon. CHC encourages affordable, effective, and sustainable healthy living practices by gathering people in marginalized communities in various regions of Lebanon and the Palestinian camps.
In collaboration with other grassroots partners, ANERA kicked off the non-smoking initiative with “Aqua Dunia,” which means “Powerful World.” The campaign includes non-smoking cartoon stickers and “Tobacco Truth” cards that explain all the detrimental effects of smoking. In an effort to educate the youth in a fun way, the campaign also created a board game in which landing on the cigarette spots means losing a point, but landing on a fruit helps the player advance toward the finish line.
Activities like Sunday’s marathon – which united over 100 ANERA participants – reinforce the non-smoking message and allow the kids to leave their community for the day and see different parts of the country.
Walking past the seven-kilometer marker through Beirut’s Verdun shopping district, Dima from South Lebanon commented, “I’ve never been to this part of the city before because my family doesn’t have the resources to bring me to Beirut.” Dima has been participating in ANERA’s CHC for a number of years and through the experience, she has made several friends from all over the country.