Posted by Br Gilbert OUILABEGUE on 20 July 2020

As in all countries on all continents, the Coronavirus disease, called Covid-19, has appeared  in the    Middle East, more precisely in Lebanon in this year 2020. Patient zero is an imported case, which came from Iran on February 21, 2020. A week later, several contact cases were reported positive in two regions of the country. This forces the education authorities to close schools and universities as of 3 March 2020. Since that date, the activities of the Fratelli Project, as a socio- educational centre, have also been suspended. It is impossible for us to take in children for our leisure programmes such as school and pre-school support. All this month of March, we have kept our doors and windows closed for our own safety and out of respect for government measures. The many families of the refugees, like all the inhabitants of Lebanon, remained confined to their camps and shelters. Some refugee camps are guarded by municipal police officers to prevent any hazardous exit of the inhabitants. Locking people who earn their daily bread by going to work in other people's homes on a daily basis for more than 30 days is tantamount to depriving them of any source of income that would enable them to survive at best. Women, children, old people, adults, sick and healthy people, staying cloistered in "houses" that are not always clean and badly ventilated, is  a real difficulty that these  many refugee families in Lebanon are experiencing. Faced with the new needs, given the grievances and the urgency presented to us by those in charge of the shelters and the heads of families, it was necessary to try to bring a concrete response by "going beyond the borders" of the ordinary activities of Fratelli Project, made impossible in this time of Coronavirus.

To do this, three urgent and concrete humanitarian actions were initiated. In view of the possibilities offered by the annual budget of the project (no transportation, no students present for snacks, no activities to consume the lines of supplies and school equipment ...). It has taken some imagination and adaptation to meet these new local and urgent needs that we summarize here in three action points:

First action for our students who are confined to their homes: how to be present to them despite the distance imposed by the confinement? The Project coordination team and the Fratelli community have undertaken to produce 90-second videos to express to the children that we are present and we hope to welcome them as soon as possible. This will take place twice a week. In this way, we have accompanied more than 650 children and young people through the social networks Facebook and WhatsApp. Started at the end of March, this activity runs until the end of May.

Second action for the families of the hungry students: with the confinement, it is impossible for parents to go out to look for the daily bread and the minimum of hygienic material that the families need. We then undertook to offer each family a pack of various basic foodstuffs (beans, rice, oil, sugar, flour, lentils, canned food...) and another pack composed of soaps, detergent,   hydro   alcoholic   gel,   sanitary  towels, shampoo, garbage plastic... We distributed, with the agreement of the Municipalities and General Security, more than 1.800 packs to the families of the refugees (Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi) and some Lebanese families. For Muslim families, this help was more than appreciated as it came at the right time for the holy month of Ramadan. The programme covered the whole month of May, despite the confinement. Each family also received a children's toy kit consisting of gadgets, balloons to inflate, colouring books, pencils and flipcharts for drawing.

Third action for "Baby kit": With the border closures, certain foodstuffs and pharmaceutical products that are essential to preserve life for the most vulnerable have become untraceable, if not inaccessible to the poorest. This is particularly the case of milk for infants. New-borns in this time of Coronavirus pandemics, and whose mothers cannot breastfeed normally, are the most exposed to this shortage or high cost of infant milk. So Fratelli Project has launched a new program to help this category, which is one of the most exposed and vulnerable to the direct consequences of Covid-19. It is called the "Baby Kit" program. From June 1 for three months, as a humanitarian assistance project, Fratelli wants to bring relief and assistance to children from 0 to 3 years of age, allowing some of the poorest and most vulnerable families to benefit from a few cans of infant milk, baby diapers and talcum powder against itch in this summer season. This new programme to respond to the humanitarian emergency of small children will be supervised by a paediatrician during these three months.

Finally, for the end of the confinement, since the students will no longer be able to return to school here in Lebanon, the team of educators is keeping alive the flame of transmitting knowledge. To this end, "summer homework" is being designed and sent every week to the homes of all students enrolled in the programs of Fratelli. Once a week, the educators meet by levels to correct and evaluate the distance learning and propose other homework for the following week. This is the new way of teaching students at a distance, imposed on us by the Coronavirus.

Fraternally in De La Salle and Marcelin Champagnat whose feast day is celebrated on June 6.

Author:Br Gilbert OUILABEGUE
About: RELAF
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