The COVID‑19 pandemic has and continues to exacerbate existing difficulties that many communities face across the world. In Lebanon, where we have been dealing with an ongoing economic, social, and political crisis, the pandemic intensified feelings of hopelessness. Tensions within Lebanese communities and Syrian refugee residents, all struggling to build and maintain their livelihoods, are at a critical point.
Currently, over 1.8 million Lebanese, roughly 40% of the Lebanese population, are estimated to live below the national poverty line. Meanwhile, nine out of 10 Syrian refugee families in Lebanon are living in extreme poverty, and Palestinain refugees face strict work limitations and are at risk to contract COVID‑19 in cramped camps. For some people who lived through the 15-year Lebanese civil war, our present situation has been described by them as worse than during the time of active conflict.
In the Mercy Corps Lebanon offices, our staff thought deeply about how we can support our communities and decided to focus on the fact that everybody is hurting. Everyone is in this awful situation together. As the program manager for IJMAA—which means “to bring together” in Arabic—our priority was to work closely with local organizations and the government to bridge communities with one another.
Through IJMAA, we partnered with a media company to create a campaign that highlighted the need for mental health awareness, solidarity, and how to combat fake news. Through national and local surveys, we found that a majority of people were overwhelmed. They faced deteriorating mental health without guidance on how to get support. Tensions between communities and lack of COVID‑19 awareness were being stoked by baseless posts shared on social media. And, most importantly, we realized that it was necessary to emphasize solidarity. We need to band together and help each other through this because it’s the only way out.
Program Manager, Mercy Corps Lebanon