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Since 2019, Lebanon has faced an unprecedented array of crises that have pushed many people, especially the most vulnerable, to the brink. Over 50% of the Lebanese population now live below the poverty line. And nine out of ten of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees who are resident in the country are now living in extreme poverty.
Refugees have primarily been surviving through informal jobs and humanitarian assistance. However, people’s ability to work has been hampered firstly due to economic crisis and again by the rolling lockdowns imposed due to COVID-19. The general decline in income has been accompanied by a drastic decline in purchasing power as the inflation rate soared to 84.9% in 2020. Compounding the growing humanitarian needs, lockdowns have also hampered the delivery of aid and services, leaving many unassisted. The explosion at the Beirut Port in August 2020 came at the worst possible time.
Over 200 people lost their lives and some 300,000 people were affected through destruction or damage to their homes and loss of jobs and income. The scale of loss reached across the city, affecting all communities and all nationalities - Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, and migrant workers from across the globe .The blast deepened existing vulnerabilities and resulted in widespread psychological trauma.
Rising levels of violence
Incidents of domestic violence have been rising since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the implementation of lockdown measures and have been made worse following the devastating impact of the Beirut blast. People’s inability to cover their most basic needs and the requirement to remain with other family members, sometimes in overcrowded and substandard conditions, fuels anxiety and violence.
The security situation in Lebanon has increased tensions among communities, and many persons have reported increasing exploitative situations and violence amongst their community, family and employers, especially women and girls.
Providing Psycho-social support
Concern’s Protection and Psycho-social Support (PSS) Officers have been providing sessions on self-care and parenting for mothers and on Gender-Based Violence to vulnerable women in Beirut. Some of the session participants have shared their experiences with us.
Nour* heard about Concern's Psycho-social support sessions through the outreach conducted after the Beirut port explosion in August 2020. After just her second session and she proudly shared that she has started to implement the communication methods she is learning in her home life. She is married and has six-year-old triplets (two boys and one girl).
Explaining that one of the boys has a lot of energy, she says “One day, my son, with a pencil, made a hole in his pants around his knee, while telling me: mommy that's fashion”. She says that the Psycho-social Support sessions helps her to stay calm and communicate with her kids during these situations, rather than resorting to violence. She says, “I used to lose my temper quickly before, against my children. Now I know there is better way to deal with my anger.”
Rita* explains not only how the sessions helped her to overcome her trauma and deal with the difficult situation she is facing, but also how the sessions gave her the opportunity to meet new people. Rita’s mother recommended that she join the sessions offered by Concern. She says she feels empowered being around other women, who come from various backgrounds and nationalities, and that sharing her story makes her feel safe and heard.
The sessions enable people who are experiencing economic and social hardships to express their challenges in a safe environment. They also bring more awareness to Gender Based Violence and help people to better mitigate and respond to the associated risks, giving women an enhanced sense of safety, connectedness and hope.
Conducting sessions remotely
Concern’s PSS Officer Nabiha* joined Concern’s team after the Beirut port explosion to work with residents living in a blast-affected area where Concern is responding. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Nabiha* always had to be careful with the people she was meeting to protect herself and the individuals she is supporting.
She says that after the Government of Lebanon announced a nationwide lockdown effective from January 7, 2021, her team had to adapt to new ways of working. Now, she conducts sessions only via Zoom. The sessions include awareness on gender roles and relations, gender-based violence, self-care, and coping mechanisms in addition to information on housing, land and property rights and COVID-19 prevention. Before the start of new group sessions, Nabiha* teaches everyone how to use the Zoom platform properly. Concern reaches both adults and children through these sessions, and new individuals are also referred continually from other organizations. The participation of children in these sessions is a great way to raise awareness of the services on offer – soon after a children’s group was created, all the parents asked to participate in the adult sessions.
Tackling Gender Based Violence
Nabiha* explains what most interests the participants in her sessions.
“Women, in particular, are mostly interested in Gender Based Violence issues, including reflecting on their own experiences of violence, understanding how it might be reduced or prevented, and learning how to deal with stress. They report that there is a lot of anger coming from their husbands and some violence in their homes and that they find it difficult to communicate when the other person is shouting.”
Nabiha* explains that she has observed a change in people's behaviour. The communication and respect between participants has improved, and they are open to discussing how the sessions have impacted them.
“We now have a list of 200 people waiting to attend these sessions. Participants told their neighbours about the sessions and people keep asking when more groups will be created,” she says.
Helping people to rebuild
A couple of months after the Beirut explosion, residents are rebuilding their lives and themselves after the physical and psychological trauma of the blast, and of bearing the consequences of the rising inflation in the country. The Psycho Social support sessions are helping people in this process. They create a space for people to learn adaptive coping mechanisms and regain a sense of continuity, no matter the challenges.
They also enable Concern to identify those who need further humanitarian support.
These sessions are part of a consortium project, funded by the European Union, which aims to address the emergency shelter and protection needs of the most vulnerable Lebanese, Syrian and migrant populations living in areas affected by the Beirut Port explosion. A community-based approach is used to enable the most at-risk individuals in communities affected by the explosion to life in safe and dignified conditions, and support these individuals in accessing specialised protection services. In addition to the PSS sessions and shelter rehabilitation, Concern provides legal counselling for individuals in need of information around Housing, Land and Property Rights and retrieval of lost documentation. Concern also supports individuals and/or survivors of Gender Based Violence and child protection cases with case management.
*Names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.
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