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“Habibi"a portrait of Lebanon by an LP4Y Catalyst

Rachel Cisinski, Contry Coordinator, TDC Beirut , Lebanon

In October 2019, a team of Catalysts put down their bags in Beirut to launch the LP4Y project in a new geographical setting. After prospecting for three months, they had to leave the country in order to obtain a new visa. Then followed the health crisis that everybody knows about and the closure of international borders, preventing our Catalysts from returning to Lebanon. In November 2020, the team was finally back in Beirut, where the deteriorating situation on the economic, political and social levels gave greater meaning to the inclusion initiatives proposed to the lebanese population. In this article, Rachel, the country coordinator, gives us a portrait of a Lebanon as brave as it is vulnerable.

“Habibi”, a portrait of Lebanon by an LP4Y Catalyst

Lebanon is this narrow strip of land that unfurls between the most beautiful sea in the world—the Mediterranean—ranges of densely wooded mountains and historical Syria. An Arab side and a European profile. A tiny dot—twice as small as a French region, ten times as small as an Indian one—sitting between the East and the West. One day is all it takes to drive across the country. “Chouf, chouf! How beautiful it is!” Chouf!—which is Look! in Arabic—is also the name of one of its most famous regions.

This is winter, you leave Beirut, its 22° Celsius, soft light, calm sea and high buildings. You drive along a road lined with banana trees. Then the landscape get more stony. A little further on, you can hear the life-saving gurgling of natural springs coming down the mountain. Miles of forest, pines, oaks, wild almond trees, two-thousand-year-old cedars stretch as far as the eye can see. As you continue to make your way up, the temperature drop and the magnificent scenery of the peaks still snow-capped in summer instantly revivify you. Eventually you go down on the other side and find yourself in the bare and arid plain of the Bekaa…

The Lebanese people is a reflection of its land: full of reliefs, contrasts and diversity. Shiites, Sunnites, Maronites, Druze, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Alawites, Ismaelians... a mere 4,000 sq mi for 18 religious denominations, each of them holding their values, traditions and personality close to their heart…

Lebanon has always been a land of refuge and today more than ever with “refugees” from Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iraq making up one third of its population…

Lebanon has also long been the stage where foreign powers could demonstrate their strength. So, when the country gained its independence in 1943, a new golden age began... It ended in 1975 with the outbreak of the Civil War. 30 years during which these communities were torn apart; communities pitted against one another, giving each Lebanese a shattered identity as it was too multiple: at once murderer, orphan and victim.

So what about Lebanon today? Poor management, corruption, communitarianism, lack of public services leading to a waste crisis, electricity cuts, water shortages, economic and financial crisis causing the Lebanese pound to rank as the second most devaluated currency in the world, along a soaring unemployment rate, a drastic rise in the cost of living, the partial destruction of Beirut on August 4, 2020, the health crisis... All they need now is a plague of locust... as the one they had at the turn of the last century…

Some may argue that Lebanon is a country that is sinking down a seemingly bottomless ocean; that the varied and numerous evils that beset the country are just too much to bear for such a small region.

Yet, HOPE is the first— and only—word which comes to my mind when I think of LEBANON.

For beyond all these impossibilities, all this violence, the Lebanese have shown an exceptional will to live. If adversity is ancestral, an unfailing generosity, an incompressible power of the heart flows in every vein.

In Lebanon, taxi drivers, if you take the time to exchange a few words with them, kiss the top of your head when you get out and forcefully putting your purse back into your bag, refuse to take your money. “Habibi” they say.

Doctor Jamal,65, retired, a lady with a thousand talents, who doesn't know you much and yet agrees to walk up and down the most rundown streets of Beirut to help you find the building which will host the first LP4Y centre. “Habibi”.

Mustapha, the Syrian green grocer round the corner, invites you into his home to meet his wife, sons, daughters, daughters in law, grand children (there are quite a few people at home) and treats you like a queen, showering you with his kindness although you understand little Arabic. “Habibi”

In Lebanon, you will hear “Ahl w Sahla”, welcome, every day. The mother of one of your friends taught you that it literally means “prairies and parents”. And indeed, after traveling miles, there at last, you will always find a family in Lebanon.

Every day you are impressed by the humanity and strength of the Lebanese people and that of the Youth especially. The same young people who, in October 2019 launched the “thaoura”, a revolution that brought together an entire people, united at last, after being divided for so long. These very youths who the day after the explosion came to the streets near Beirut port to rescue people, pick up the wreckage, clear up the rubble and reach out. These young people who in a system which does not provide any social welfare take care of their parents, their aunts, their uncles. These young people who have few opportunities, if any, but do not get bitter for all that.

Thank you for your dignity, for your humanity. Thank you for making me feel welcome, thank you for your proud humbleness for always saving a seat for the hungry.

It is more than ever urgent to support the Lebanese Youth to help them not to give up hope and believe in their future as much as we believe in it! The LP4Y project was designed for them, to allow them not to give up and to see far ahead. I am looking forward to working alongside the first young Lebanese within the LP4Y programme. I am looking forward to sharing their success, to seeing them grow and show their strengths. I am looking forward to seeing them shine.


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