Lebanon -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1
The Housing Need
Civil war shattered homes and lives in Lebanon and left millions of people displaced.
Habitat for Humanity Lebanon’s reconstruction project has served thousands of people.
From 1975 until the early nineties, civil war in Lebanon destroyed not only lives, homes and infrastructure, but also its fragile society. During this period, an estimated one million people were displaced by fighting, and hundreds of thousands were injured, killed, or disappeared. The damage to property alone cost $25 billion USD; the scars of civil society ran much deeper. Post-war government reconstruction grants were insufficient and seen to be distributed unfairly, only deepening sectarian divisions.
Many more homes and lives were destroyed in the July-August 2006 war between the Israeli Defense Force and the militant wing of Hezbollah, which also displaced one million people and damaged more than 100,000 houses.
Reconstruction from these wars left Lebanon heavily in debt and continued political unrest has prevented its economy from recovering fully. Unemployment is still high (20% in 2006) and the jobs that exist pay very low wages, despite the high cost of living.
Rapid urbanization due to displacement and economic deprivation has resulted in ghettos of poverty in Beirut and other large cities. Thousands of those displaced live illegally in old industrial centers, condemned buildings about to collapse, ruins or inadequate houses. Living conditions are often deplorable, with no access to proper sanitation, clean water or electricity. Without jobs, families remain trapped in a cycle of poverty.
The situation is not much better for those who remain in rural villages. Low-quality construction is ubiquitous, and water leakage, lack of heating, inadequate sanitation, and overcrowding are common among Lebanon’s rural dwellers. The cost of construction has skyrocketed in recent years along with the cost of living, leaving low-income families with no option to improve their homes.
Habitat for Humanity Lebanon (HFHL)
Since its inception in late 2001, Habitat for Humanity Lebanon (HFHL) has sheltered thousands of displaced Lebanese in 65 mixed communities in south Lebanon by providing families the necessary financial and technical assistance to reconstruct, repair, renovate or complete their homes and make them decent, healthy and safe.
Working in partnership with volunteers, CBO’s and homeowner families, HFHL builds more than houses; it builds lives, homes, and unified communities. Using a participatory approach rooted in firm beliefs of empowerment and transformation, HFHL has played an important role in renewing the concept of development in a country that has focused primarily on economic growth since the civil war.
Bishop Salim Ghazal, regional statesman and Chairman of HFHL, comments: "With Habitat's arrival, many communities are overjoyed with the opportunity to rebuild their simple village homes.”
HFHL has proven effective in rebuilding both houses and communities across dividing lines. Priority is given to those families in greatest need, without discrimination. Homeowners, neighbors, and corporate volunteers join in the construction, reviving the Lebanese village tradition of ‘aouni’, or helping one another. Local volunteers serve as program leaders, and are living examples of the attitude needed to rebuild their villages.
In East Sidon, HFHL works in partnership with the Center for Dialogue and Development and with local committees made up of a representative mix of religious groups and denominations from the communities. Other partnerships are currently being pursued, in order to further the work of the program.
Real Life Story
Four-year old Reine Asaad’s father was killed during the fighting which ensued between Christians and Muslims in the villages of southern Lebanon in the early 1980’s. Reine's mother left with her two young daughters for fear of their safety, and moved into her father's house, where they remained for two decades.
Eventually, the fighting came to an end. Reine became a teacher and the only bread-winner in her family. Her job was close to the home which she and her family had fled during the fighting which broke out, and which now stood abandoned. Reine had always dreamed of returning to her home in Lebaa with her mother and sister, to reclaim the land and lives they had lost. But she had little hope, as she could not afford to repair the war-damaged home. Its windows and doors had been removed; the interior of the house was completely gutted and filled with rubble, the exterior pock-marked by years of bulleting and shelling.
Through a friend Reine heard about HFHL and she realized that her dream might just be possible. She applied immediately and was soon accepted. On September 18 2005, more than 20 years after the family had left, work began on rebuilding Reine's home. A group of local volunteers – both Muslim and Christian - worked hard to transform the house and erase its scars. HFHL’s National Director, Dani El Tayar, says "It was reconciliation in action, both on a personal and community level."
Reine was extremely moved by the help of the volunteers: "Today I am very happy, especially with the presence of people working with us as if it were their home…This day has changed my attitude and perspective, and I say that from the depths of my heart." With hard work and the open arms of those around her, Reine has been able to defy her circumstances and reclaim hope for herself and her family.
Location: Middle East on the Mediterranean, between Israel and Syria
Climate: Mediterranean; mild to cool, with wet winters and hot, dry summers
Population: 4.1 million
Economy: Main industries include banking, tourism, food processing, jewelry, and cement
Religions: Islam, Christianity