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Lebanon Story

“You wouldn’t believe the destruction we saw when we first visited Siddiquin” states Habitat National Director Dani El Tayar. “It was terrible. Three story buildings flattened like pancakes. I could show you photo after photo of various villages, they all look the same, nothing but piles of rubble.” Siddiquin has a population of approximately 5000 people. Nearly every home suffered some damage during Israel’s war with Lebanon last year, and others were completely destroyed. Habitat wanted to respond to the destruction, and after assessing a number of villages in the south, Rebuilding Lebanon, the Disaster Response project, was initiated.

 

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Inside the Balhas bathroom.

 
 

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Inside Nasmiya and Daoud’s house

 
 

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Hussein and Fatima Balhas with their 2 children. Fatima is expecting their 3rd child.

 
 

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Nasmiya sitting in her house

 

Habitat with partner NGOs, including Dialogue in Development, and in conjunction with the local Municipality of each village, are providing grants, ranging from $50 to $5,000, to assist people in rebuilding their homes. The homeowners are very carefully screened so that the grants are only supplied to those who cannot afford to rebuild otherwise. Each home is then carefully assessed to ascertain just what is required in order to ensure the house is safe and habitable. Initially, only 1/3 of the total designated amount is disbursed to begin the renovations and each homeowner hires a local contractor to do the building work. Habitat initiated this idea for two reasons. One as a means of providing local contractors with work, rather than bringing in firms from Beirut, the other was that in conjunction with the YMCA, they are also conducting trainings in building and construction for local farmers who have lost their livelihoods due to the war. This ensures that the project also stimulates the local economy. The subsequent payment is released after each phase had been evaluated.

Rami Fawaz, one of the engineers Habitat contracted to supervise the project, reported that most of the homes he visited had been approved to begin the second stage. Overall, he is very pleased and in some cases amazed at the improvements evident in the houses as opposed to the destruction he witnessed during the assessment phase.

The destruction of the bombing is still visible in nearly every home under renovation. Many people in the village have stories to tell of where the bomb had hit their house. Hussein and Fatima Balhas and their 2 children, are one such family. The rocket landed in their kitchen roof and the entire side of the house was blown away. There were cracks and holes left by bomb fragments throughout the house and judging by the visible cracks around the top of the walls, it appears as if the roof had literally lifted off with the force of the explosion and fallen back in place. Habitat had provided the maximum amount to repair their kitchen, bathroom and main bedroom. Fatima was very grateful as she did not know what they would have done without Habitat’s assistance. She is 6 months pregnant, and wore a wonderful smile as she proudly showed off her new kitchen; in sharp contrast to the depression she experienced when she first came back to the village after the bombing. “I am very happy and comfortable now in the house.” She states. The family evacuated the area when the conflict began, which was just as well, otherwise who would have known what would have happened had they still been in the house, something she doesn’t want to think about.

Hussein is a tobacco farmer, as are the majority of men in the village, and he has only recently taken a loan from the bank based on his expected income from his crop. The war and resulting damage had reduced his production from 400 to 150 kilos, consequently he is now unable to repay his debt and it will be a number of years before he is able to do so. “All my work goes to the bank,” he said. Hussein is not the only one to lose most of his crop. Many livelihoods were destroyed as so many bombs had fallen in and around the village that much of the farmland are literally mine fields now. Some of the fields have rockets so deeply embedded in the ground that they are very difficult to detect. There is a bomb removal squad in the area working to clear the fields, but it is a long and dangerous process.

Daoud (Arabic for David) and Nasmiya’s house is located right next to one such field, which has tape placed around it to warn people of the embedded cluster bombs. They are also rebuilding their home, and not for the first time. In 1996, during a previous warwith Israel, a bomb had fallen on their house. Last year the house took a direct hit by a rocket in their bedroom, which caused many cracks and supporting roof columns to collapse. The couple has 12 children, 9 girls and 3 boys, and 54 grandchildren, though only the two youngest sons are still living at home. However, their family still visits them often. “Sometimes the neighbors think we are having a wedding party or something, but it is just our usual family visiting.” says Daoud, who hopes his two unmarried sons, (Yahya 22 and Mohammed 26), also marry and have 12 children each, 54 grandchildren is not enough! They were also very grateful for the assistance from Habitat. “It made a great difference, my house was like wreckage before” said Nasmiya. One can only hope that none of these 54 grandchildren choose to wander into the field next door.

Habitat is currently working in five villages in the south. Rami is proud to be involved in this project. “It makes me very satisfied to see how much the living conditions have improved.” He feels that rebuilding homes helps remove the memory of the war, especially for the children. “Not only giving them a decent place to live, but also helping to remove the image of the destruction caused by the war so it doesn’t permanently affect them psychologically” he said. Dan O’Brien, Program Manager of the project stated that what had struck him when he first witnessed the destruction was realizing that the bombs didn’t just hit concrete structures, they also shattered lives. Through this project, Habitat and their partners are working to do both; rebuild homes and lives in a land that has known more than its fair share of conflict and destruction.