Camp Social Solidarity: Attempts to mitigate the disaster
*“Tafa’ol (interaction) :Palestinian media gathering in Lebanon
A daily meal reaches the one-room house of Umm Ahmad, in Burj Al-Barajneh camp, south of Beirut. The family is waiting for their hot meal, like dozens of other families whose basic meal has become dependent on the benevolent cook “Tabkhet el Kheir” initiative, founded by Palestinian youth inside the camp to help the needy homes amid rising prices, unemployment and poverty rates. The volunteers go around collecting donations, each according to his energy and financial ability, in cooperation with the expatriate camp residents in Europe, to help the poor and needy families by providing hot meals.
Umm Ahmed tells “Jousour” that her situation is more miserable now, after she lost the monthly family income composed of five members. She indicates that the family took refuge in Lebanon after the intensification of the battles in the Yarmouk camp, and came to Burj al-Barajneh six years ago after losing the father killed during a bombing in Yarmouk. She worked for an institution as a cleaning helper, but lost her job two months ago because the company closed. As for her eldest son, he worked in a café, and the owner laid him off amid the economic crisis hitting Lebanon. Umm Ahmed is worried about the future of her family, especially since she cannot afford to pay the house rent. She asserts, “Last month, the owner of the house waived the month’s rent, but this month, I don’t know what to do?”
On the other hand, Fathi and his wife left their home in Beddawi camp in northern Lebanon and lived with his family after he was unable to pay the rent. He has been married for less than a year and confirms, “if I had known that I would leave my daily job as an accountant in the paint factory, I would not have married and rented a house, and had it not been for my family, I would now be homeless.” Fathi’s brother, an immigrant in Canada, helps his family financially, but expenses have increased with a decrease in income. Holder of a university degree (business administration) he searches for a new or any other profession, and he says that he applies online to companies inside and outside Lebanon, in addition to requesting work in restaurants and cafes or any job.
“Good people donate to good people”, says Susan Habbous, “The Good People””Tayboun” initiative in Burj Al-Shamali camp in southern Lebanon is composed of 40 members. The initiative was launched at the end of 2019 to alleviate societal disaster, she says. Activists got to know each other last summer during demonstrations against the measures imposed by former Lebanese Labor Minister Camille Abu Suleiman, on Palestinian workers. This acquaintance has resulted in an exchange of views between the camp’s residents. When the economic crisis intensified and its social repercussions deepened, some activists called to reconnect and establish the initiative in order to help the poorest families. Indeed, they gathered in more than one hall inside the camp, distributed themselves according to the neighborhoods, and put more than one idea to implement.
One of the initiative’s activists, Fatima Khudair, notes that “the initiative is composed of the youth, it is fully independent, although some of its activists belong to multiple factions or civil societies. It was launched in light of the rising prices of basic commodities resulting from the changes in the exchange rate of the dollar, and the incomes of the majority of families in the camp are not commensurate with prices, especially since a large part of the workers lost their jobs due to the crisis.”
Khudair assures to “Jousour” that “the initiative has turned into an organized campaign within the camp’s neighborhoods, and volunteers collect through a charitable fund donations from rich or businessmen and owners of workshops and shops.” She describes the interaction with the volunteers as unexpected, especially as “people known for their difficult financial situation donated what they could, even if it was small, but it reflects the spirit of solidarity between the camp’s residents.” In the first month, the campaign managed to raise nearly five million Lebanese pounds, according to Habbous, in addition to in-kind donations from some grocery stores, all of which was transformed into food baskets that benefited 250 families. She notes that the majority of the camp’s expatriates were unable to send donations due to the suspension of financial transfers to Lebanon, yet some expatriates sent their donations through intermediaries.
What distinguishes the “Tayboun” initiative is that it does not affect the privacy of the needy family, because the volunteers do not distribute food baskets directly to the houses, but each family is given a special coupon (voucher) that enables them to go to more than one grocery shop or supermarket and take their ration. Habbous says, “the campaign has a secret bulletin listing the most needy families and has set standards for this, including the number of family members and the presence of a family-provider or breadwinner, or sick family members, in addition to other conditions such as whether the house is rented or not. Thus we try to ensure equality and fairness in the distribution process while preserving the dignity and pride of those in need; therefore, we do not mention family names, nor take pictures of them or make them feel that we are helping them.” Habbous pointed out that “Tayboun” coordinates with NGOs in the camp, especially since the initiative expanded and for the third time in a row the volunteers collect donations and distribute rations. Furthermore, they are working on the basis of transparency and honesty with the donors and beneficiaries, consequently everything they collect is listed on their Facebook campaign page.”
Volunteers were able to persuade some owner shops inside the camp to reduce the prices of goods, and to provide food offers and attempts to support some basic commodities such as infant milk, as well as some medicines in pharmacies, especially since the Burj Al-Shamali camp is known to have more than 200 cases of “Thalassemia” in need of periodic medication.
According to Habbous, the “Good people” initiative is evaluating the experience through periodic meetings in order to study the potentials of failure or success, and find new ways to enhance and sustain them. Volunteers aim at transferring this experience to other Palestinian camps, especially since the reality of the living conditions in the camps is similar.