The economic situation in Lebanon has been rapidly deteriorating since the end of 2019 due to political and social instability, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the ammonium nitrate explosion in Beirut last August. The Lebanese pound collapsed, losing almost six times its value in less than a year. The pound slid from 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar to a street rate of 8,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, resulting in more unemployment and an exponential increase in prices. According to the ESCWA, estimates reveal that more than 55% of the country’s population is now trapped in poverty and struggling for bare necessities.
Mountada al Moukaadin
A lot of people in the country refused to lose hope and are moving forward regardless of all the difficulties they are facing. Eliana Gabriel, 60, is a great example of what a person can achieve when relying on faith, perseverance, and strong will.
Eliana has been constantly fighting her own battles. “I had polio when I was one and a half years old,” she says. “At that time, no one knew what polio was nor how to deal with it. I lost mobility in my legs ever since. I was able to surpass my problems through faith, support, and love from my family and friends.” she says.
But disability couldn’t stop Eliana. “I grew up in the town of Zahle where I learned how to be independent and to count on myself,” she says. “I even learned how to drive despite my disability. My father had an oil and gas company where he used to take me when I was young, I fell in love with this business and now I am the manager of this company.”
Back in 1993, Eliana and a few of her friends who also suffer from physical disabilities decided to open a place to help others with similar difficulties. “There were no associations or organizations at that time in the Bekaa that helps people with physical disabilities,” she says. “With the support of the community in Zahle and through a lot of research and hard work, we were able to build, one step at a time, the “Mountada al Moukaadin” center,” she says. The center provides medical services, physical therapy, and job opportunities for physically impaired people.“Thank god for everything we were able to achieve so far,” she says.
Just like most sectors in the country, “Mountada al Moukaadin” was badly affected by the economic situation and the Covid-19 outbreak. “The situation in the past year was really difficult, we did not have the financial ability to keep our projects running,” says Eliana. “Also, we were not able to function properly due to the constant lockdowns in the country. We really needed the support to keep going.”
27 empowered individuals
Within the framework of UNDP Lebanon’s response the to the direct economic downturn impact on vulnerable people in Lebanon, implemented in partnership with World Vision, Mountada al Moukaadin was provided with sewing machines and fabric material for the production of face masks, along with cash for work for the beneficiaries
“There are around 27 beneficiaries with physical disabilities working here,” says Eliana. “We started with training courses because most of them never worked in the sewing industry before.”
But this is far more than a place of business. “There is a spirit of cooperation and mutual support between everyone working in the project,” she says. “They are sewing face masks. This work gives them a sense of empowerment because they are helping protect the community they live in. Honestly, they surprised us with their hidden capability and the passion they showed.”
Eliana says that the center fills a gap in society. “The places that provide work opportunities for people with disabilities are almost non-existent now,” she says. “Most of the workplaces are not even well equipped for them. Here we also provide transportation so it’s easier for them to come and leave work.” The salary for a six-hour day is 50,000 Lebanese pounds. "This has ignited the feeling of being a productive part of society,” says Eliana.
A push forward for Roy, Pascale, and many others
Roy, 31, has been working with Mountada al Moukaadin for eight years. Finding a work opportunity was really difficult considering he suffers from shaking hands. “It is true we can’t be like other organizations with the limited amount of help we are providing, but we are doing our part,” he says. “I enjoy this project especially because it protects the society during the pandemic.”
But there’s more, says Roy. “We are living like a family here. This work is helping us during these hard times and giving us a sense of empowerment. It pushes us forward like we have no physical limits. I am also able to support my family, thanks to this project.”
Thirty-four-year-old Pascale, who has never walked without help since birth, is very happy to be able to contribute to society. “I have been working for 10 years with Mountada al Moukaadin,” she says. “I feel I am doing my part protecting the people through the sewing I am doing. I met new people and feel very comfortable.”
Pascale is thankful for the opportunity to work. “I live with my sisters, they are very happy for me,” she says. “I always loved handcraft work so it was a really good opportunity to learn something I enjoy and hopefully progress in it. I am very grateful that I am part of this place.”
This project aims to provide 144 beneficiaries in the Bekaa like Roy and Pascale with short term employment opportunities in the productive sectors. Eliana is very happy for beneficiaries to find a place where they can feel appreciated. “I started with the idea of Mountada al Moukaadin to help people who are going through the same problems I went through,” she says. “Now more than ever people are looking for an opportunity that can help them show their capacity along with making an income that can help support them and their families.”