Embrace the Middle East – update on coronavirus impacting their work

There will be countless lessons that we take away from this time of isolation brought about by Corona Virus – many positive, as well as some less so.

The creativity and innovation, for example, that has opened up new possibilities for our virtual ways of meeting together will no doubt leave a lasting mark on how we work in future, not least for Embrace with its partners across the Middle East.

Meeting via a video link to pray with our Middle Eastern colleagues has been an enriching experience for us, and has helped us to feel more connected with them. It seems odd now that we didn’t think to do this earlier, but I’m sure it is a pattern that will continue.

For many of the families that Embrace’s partners serve though, the connectivity that the internet provides is a luxury that they do not have.

As a mother of three, I have been really challenged during this period of experimental home-schooling just how hard it is to do! Especially when you have children of different ages, each with differing needs, and all of whom need constant attention and support (and cajoling).

How much harder must it be then, if you are an illiterate parent living in overcrowded living quarters with other extended family members, where you sleep and eat in the same room, and when your principal worry is about how to put a meal before your family each day?

For many families in Lebanon, this is the grim reality: not only for the >1 million Syrian and Palestinian refugees who continue to reside in the country, but for many poor Lebanese families too.

Even before the onset of Coronavirus, Lebanon was already in crisis-mode. The national economic emergency, which had been smouldering for months, came to a head in October 2019 when people took to the streets to protest years of mismanagement of their public resources. The country has been in a state of near political and economic paralysis ever since, with a public debt burden equivalent to 170% of GDP and unemployment levels steadily soaring.

For several months now, Embrace’s local partners have been giving out food parcels to many of the beneficiary families they serve as they struggle to cope – indeed survive – in such circumstances.

Then along came Covid-19. If you were a daily-wage worker dependent on an irregular income before, the chances of earning money to feed your family now become nigh impossible due to the restrictions imposed as a result of this global health emergency.

In this context, contemplating the educational needs of your children surely slips down the list of priorities – not least because you have limited or no resources at your disposal with which to teach them. As we shared with you last week, our partners are working hard to overcome this obstacle but it can be very difficult; as Tahaddi reported: “Teaching remotely is a challenge when families have a phone for 10 or more persons, or no phone, or no more money to charge the phone…”

It is therefore, I think, a great testimony to the skill, creativity and commitment of Embrace’s partners that instead of being fazed by the challenge of distance learning they chose to rise to it. Partners like Tahaddi who work in a crowded, deprived area in Beirut and are conducting lessons over whatsapp.

But sadly – and unsurprisingly – this way of learning isn’t without its frustrations. Some 20% of the children that Tahaddi works with do not even have access to a phone, and so they are by default excluded from this home learning strategy. For the “lucky” ones that do, the phone must be shared with other family members, including several siblings who belong to different classes. Frequently the internet fails, or the pay-as-you-go bundle has been consumed and there is no money to renew it, or the father whom the phone belongs to has finally got a day’s work and takes the phone with him.

The Tahaddi team are doing what they can with the little that they have though, and they are determined to keep going. They do this because they are driven by an overwhelming compassion and deep conviction to serve this community on the margins. Their mission is one of hope; the approach is one of solidarity and sincere love.

As I reflect on my own “challenges”, I am humbled and inspired by their tenacity and courage to stay faithful to their commitment to serve. For me, this truly is a lesson in love.

For more inspiring stories and reflections, please download a digital copy of the Embrace magazine. You can do so here:

https://www.embraceme.org/magazine