Another adventure. Another inspiring experience. Another exposure to difficult realities and painful history. The Middle East. We have excellent and relevant YMCAs throughout the region. I shall take you on a tour of Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. Around the Middle East in 16 days in November 2011.
A terrible war rolled over Lebanon in 1976. The General Secretary of the Lebanese YMCA, a very close friend of mine, I am proud to say, Ghassan Sayah, is lying on the floor of his office. Fighting and shooting is going on in the street below the office, heavy shelling in the outskirts of Beirut. A few staff people have been isolated in the office for a week, surviving on some fruit and water. Ghassan discovers to his surprise that the international telephone connection had started to work again. He calls to New York to tell where he is and that they are in badly need of water. During those weeks and months of war the identity of YMCA Lebanon changed and became an organization focused on the basic needs of a war struck country. They started to distribute medicine to the population, they started vocational training for displaced young people, they created job opportunities for rural women, they initiated collaboration with nearly all other NGOs in the country to create a safe environment for children where they grew up.
Ghassan has served close to 40 years as the CEO of the YMCA in Lebanon, he is now the advisor to the Minister of Environment in Lebanon, and YMCA Lebanon is today highly respected by the government and by the society at large. YMCA Lebanon is in partnership with 100 other NGOs in support of children locally and in partnership with 250 NGOs in the field of Youth Development and Empowerment.
Joe Awad has taken over the role as CEO after Ghassan, and he took me to the Barouk medical centre close to the Beka valley towards the border of Syria. YMCA is the trusted partner of the government to distribute prescription medicine to chronically sick patients without means to pay for it themselves. Every single package of medicine is stamped with a number and with the YMCA. In this way YMCA monitors the whole process to avoid any kind of corruption. YMCA works with 450 clinics around the country. Is this amazing?
Next day Joe and I drove down south, all the way to the border to Israel. We were to visit the Solid Waste Management plant in Ainbaal, opened in June this year. In cooperation with USAID (US Agency for International Development) and the local authorities, the YMCA has set up a top modern waste management plant, taking care of 1200 tons of waste every month, recirculating the waste and producing compost for use in agriculture. At the same time the plant gives valuable jobs for women and men in the nearby villages. In addition to this the YMCA has installed 9 Waste Water Treatment stations in Lebanon to contribute to an improved environment in the country. Is this amazing? It shows what the YMCA is capable of doing, and the first ideas for this change of operations came while lying on the floor to avoid the bullets from the street below.
We are warmly welcomed by some very proud women at the plant called Rural Delight. 21 local women own their own business in premises rented by the local authorities. There they produce jam and pickled olives and onions and vegetables, olive oil and herbs and sell it all over the country and even export it. In the years 2005-07 the YMCA in Lebanon again in cooperation with USAID set up 37 cooperatives for women. The YMCA trained 1600 women in accounting, marketing, management, processing of fruit etc, all what it takes to run their own business. After a few years all 37 cooperatives are now independent and owned and run by the women themselves. 25 of the women are now Trainers of trainers themselves. This is truly empowerment of rural women. They bring money to the family and they thereby get a voice and a say in family matters and slowly also in village matters. Amazing. And the jam and olives and herbs are all organic and with no added chemicals and taste heavenly!