One Winning Battle in Lebanon

(Published in Huffington Post)

When some parts of the Middle East are busy fighting on religious, political or ethnic grounds, humanitarian and charity organisations keep themselves busy with improving the quality of life for millions of deprived and disadvantaged persons. The poor, the disabled, the traumatised and the war victims in millions have been the main concern of thousands of local and international charity organisations. Members of those organisations are in fact the real heroes who work hard on restoring the social balance for environments that are insufficiently supported by their governments.

As for Lebanon, even though peace has been restored after a long and deadly war, pockets of turmoil still divide parts of the country and disturb its daily normal life. One of those hero organisations serving the Lebanese community is the young Rotary Club of Sahel Aley. The 14-member-club serves a catchment area of 40,000 inhabitants belonging to mixed religious and political groups.

On the medical and health front of public services, the area has a shortage of ambulances, medical equipment, and dental clinic services amongst other services. On the water supply side, some areas are still underdeveloped. On the educational level, some government schools in the area are poorly equipped especially when it comes to providing potable water to its students; most of those students come from very poor and deprived families. Some government schools are also poorly equipped with computer labs and other technical facilities. Thanks to the club, most of these problems are tackled.

Since its establishment seven years ago, the club managed to offer the community projects of value exceeding $366,000 (around £225,000), the last of which is to be completed by the end of this year.

This is quite a remarkable figure for a small number of individuals who work for the club on a voluntary basis alongside their full time jobs or professions. Hiam Khachen, past president of the club, and who is the Vice President of Information Technology at the Central Bank of Lebanon explains how they manage to do it: “Rotary clubs are blessed with a wide international network. A local club has the option to team up with an international club and to work together to finance a certain project. The amounts raised by the two clubs are matched by the Rotary districts of the two clubs and by the Rotary Foundation.” She added: “In addition to partnering with other Lebanese Rotary clubs for financing different projects on a regular basis , we have teamed up with The Rotary clubs (RC) of  Hollywood , Troy, Genesee Valley, Reno & Carson City and Cedars in the USA to deliver medical equipment, furnish a dental clinic, buy ambulances, and finance computer labs for underprivileged schools. In Italy we partnered with RC Bologna Valle Idice for financing the purchase of an ambulance. With RC South Bunbury of Australia we financed purchasing medical equipment.  With RC Halstead of Essex in the UK we were able to buy a minibus for BLESSED – school for the blind. With RC Hamburg-Deichtor of Germany, we financed the purchase of physiotherapy machines.”

On an annual basis and twice per year, on the occasion of Eid and Christmas, more than 50 food boxes each containing 27 kg of a variety of pulses and grains, spaghetti, milk and oil are distributed to needy families. Wheelchairs distributed annually to poor disabled individuals, and books collected locally or internationally and distributed to the different libraries in the region are projects that have become annual traditions. The club’s activity has even outreached to support projects in Lebanon as a whole. A club member, and a past president of the club, Dr Samar Saab, a Psychologist by profession, who is the first lady to serve as the Deputy District Governor, in all District 2450, has helped support the Rotary Clubs in Lebanon to handle a mega project; ”Water Filtration” to all government schools in Lebanon.  “We have already provided students with clean potable water in 200 schools this year and we still have 1000 to do within 3 years“ said Samar.

It is amazing to feel the passion of the members when talking about the club and its achievements. All members are university graduates in different professions including Computer science, Psychology, Medicine, Law, Engineering to name a few, and are assuming high profile professional positions in Lebanon. It is highly noticeable that each considers his or her volunteer work at Rotary as seriously and as keenly as they consider their professional occupations.

To the discerning eye, it is obvious that this is the spirit of the true Lebanese where the hope of a peaceful and bright future awaits, and which is the corner stone for re-building the Lebanese national identity.

On the occasion of the #International Peace Day taking place on the 21st September, and with this year’s Rotary International theme of #Peace Through Service, The Rotary Club of Sahel Aley conveys the message and demonstrates how Rotary and Rotarians are effective agents for change.

When the siren of the Red Cross Ambulance in the mainly Christian town of “Souk Al Gharb” or the Druze-Christian-Muslim town of “Choueifat” is heard, or when you drive by the minibus of the school for the blind, in Christian “Achrafieh” in Beirut, or when you hear about installing clean potable water in more than 20 government schools where poor Christian-Muslim-Druze students study, or about the services of Ultra sound machine & ECG in mixed religion’s “Kfarshima” and “Kfarmata” towns, plus many more, it will be good to know that a young non discriminate and a non sectarian Rotary club is behind these achievements and services- an example to be followed in Lebanon and the Middle East.

Randa Saab Smith, London, 15 Sep. 2012


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