(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries in Beirut, Lebanon, have been providing food, shelter and support to Lebanese and refugee families affected by the Aug. 4 explosion that killed more than 200 people. Funding to support these emergency initiatives came from Salesian organizations around the globe including Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
In a video message right after the explosion, Salesian Father Simon Zakerian said, "We are here where this explosion took place in the port of Beirut where so many people have left this world. There are still so many people missing, many are injured, and there is so much damage to the whole of Beirut and the whole country. It's a very sad thing, a thing that makes you cry."
Fr. Zakerian added, "Despite this destruction and these difficulties, our young Salesian animators have joined youth groups of the diocese of Jbeil, and with them also the young Muslims, all the young people of Lebanon, have decided to voluntarily put themselves at the service of people most in need. Young people give hope, joy and take to the streets to help and to reaffirm that we must build our city together, remaining united."
With the emergency funding, Salesians have provided direct financial support to 19 Syrian families who are refugees in Lebanon and were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Beirut port explosion. In addition, 10 youth and three Lebanese families have received financial aid to help with property loss from the explosion.
Providing for the nutritional needs of those impacted has also been critical. Salesian missionaries have provided food and basic non-food boxes to families in need. There were three separate distributions impacting 120 families, 175 families and 100 families in the final distribution.
Salesian missionaries at Don Bosco Hossoun also provided emergency shelter to Iraqi and Syrian families. Families are staying at guesthouses while they work to repair their damaged homes. Families are able to receive some respite and children who have been deeply traumatized by the explosion have some downtime and recuperate. Children have had access to recreation activities and have been offered counseling from educators and a psychologist.
Finally, scholarship funding was provided to Lebanese students who were unable to continue their education because of the coronavirus pandemic. Because the 2020 school year has been uncertain, many students have not enrolled or were late seeking funding for school. This funding will help these students continue their education.
Salesians have been working in Lebanon long before this disaster providing education and social supports for youth and families in poverty, and they will be there long after to help rebuild the community and people's lives.
More than 25 percent of Lebanese citizens live in poverty. Poverty drops to 16 percent in urban areas like the capital city of Beirut, but climbs to 36 percent in some rural areas, according to the World Bank. Children from poor families are less likely to be able to complete their education and have limited employment opportunities as they get older. Many end up stuck in low-wage, seasonal and high turnover positions. As many as 20 percent of Lebanese citizens live with unimproved sanitation facilities and 10 percent of poor households have no access to clean drinking water.
Lebanon is also dealing with more than 1 million refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war, according to UNHCR -- the UN Refugee Agency. Salesian missionaries have been working in Lebanon since 1952 and currently have two centers. The center in Fidar has Don Bosco Technique and a youth center. The Salesian community in Hossoun has an oratory and a reception house that has been housing Catholic refugees since the start of the war in Syria.