USAID Assists Bkassine Muncipaity Establish an Agro-processing Center to Boost Incomes

As the economic situation in Lebanon worsens, income sources are becoming scarce. Women in the mountainous village of Bkassine used to produce agro-food from locally grown products to make a living.

However, this sector, which was already suffering from limited sales due to modest marketing capabilities and difficulty in sustaining optimal produce quality, has only been declining due to Lebanon’s recent socio-economic circumstances.

Thus, the USAID-assisted agro-processing center in Bkassine comes as an enormous contribution to the village, as it will help women collectively standardize and homogenize their produced jams and pickles in line with food safety and market standards, and to access new markets that increase their sales. One of the project’s beneficiaries, Mrs. Jacqueline Moussa, was quoted in an interview saying:

“I am so excited for the launch of this project that will immensely improve the lives of many of our community members, especially the women of Bkassine who will find themselves greatly empowered by the employment and market expansion opportunities that it will provide. This project will give us a chance to maintain our ability to turn in a decent individual income in these difficult times.”

Mrs. Moussa is a single mother of five, four of which are currently married, while her 16-year-old is still living with her, and depends on her income. She became widowed after her husband unfortunately lost his battle with cancer 7 years ago. She currently produces various kinds of jams and other homemade products to sell within her village of Snaya in Southern Lebanon. This earns her around 600000 to 1000000 L.B.P monthly, depending on local market demand.

Mrs. Moussa represents one of many other people who rely on similar projects to manage their struggle with Lebanon’s ever-expanding plight of poverty.

GET LOST IN FATRI-USAID BALADI

Fatri is a beautiful rural village in the Jbeil district (Mount Lebanon, Lebanon) that is renowned for its natural sceneries which constitute a big asset for potential eco-tourism activities that can in turn boost local economy and generate jobs.

As part of BALADI project implemented by Rene Moawad Foundation in partnership with Fatri Municipality, two local CSO/NGO (municipal youth committee and Aie Confience) and one private sector (Adonis Valley- an organic production farm), RMF under the BALADI program funded by USAID supported the municipality at a total cost of $200,000 to implement an income-generating rural tourism project. The latter comprises a sociocultural and recreational center, a camping site, and a 3.5km trail that links the different sites of the project and other parts of the village. The municipality has also contributed $45K in several works in the center and trail.  In January 2020, RMF completed the full rehabilitation and signage of the old trail that the community ancestors used to march to reach their agricultural lands and work. The trail passes by several community landmarks starting from “Ain El Dayaa” (the village spring) then heads East towards “Dahr El Faras” (an ancient stairway) and down to the Olive orchards and then passing through the new project camp, an old carving press and finally reaching Adonis Valley farm. A total of 2,640 persons are expected to benefit from the various project activities including 77 people of small and medium local businesses which will benefit from the influx of visitors. Approximately 63 job opportunities are expected to be created. The trail will be officially operational starting March 2020 after the end of the rainy season. The recreational center and the campsite are already completed awaiting equipping from the municipality which will be ready by March 2020 as well.

AGRO-FOOD FACILITY IN QAA EL RIM-USAID BALADI

Meet Nohemie Rizk from Qaa Rim and one of our future workers in the established agro-food processing facility. This project was selected based on community needs, given that many women within the village of Qaa el Rim already work in agro-food processing from their homes but they lack awareness of standardization products and food safety to try to market common unified products.

On February 7 2019, as part of the technical assistance provided under the USAID-funded BALADI project, the Rene Moawad Foundation trained 15 women from Qaa El Rim Women Cooperative on the full process of jam preparation including jars sterilization. Nohemie is currently unemployed as most of her time is dedicated to fill the role of a housewife through taking care of her 2 children and managing all the household chores and responsibilities. Her husband owns a small land in which he invests through farming and growing crops. The training she attended under the BALADI program funded by USAID  was very helpful and valuable because Mrs. Nohemie sometimes prepares jam and other homemade products in order to sell them within Qaa Rim village. For that reason, the training gave her a brighter image about agro food processing including proper personal hygiene, food safety and jars sterilization. Most importantly, this training has motivated Nohemie to be a working mother and today she encourages all women to purchase their goals, develop their skills and believe that they can make a big change.

Farming is a profession of Hope-USAID BALADI

Mahmoud Kanjo is one of Tal Abbas farmers who is engaged in agriculture since 1997. He is the head of a household consisting of a wife and 2 kids. Before the new water conveyance network was established by RMF under the BALADI program funded by USAID, Mr. Mahmoud used to rely on barley farming and grains only with an average seasonal income estimated 200 L.B.P during the past years due to the inefficient irrigation canals. Since the completion of the project, the production has improved by approximately 50% since he is now able to plant different kind of crops such as potatoes and vegetables. Therefore, the seasonal income has increased as well to reach a minimum of 500 L.B.P during winter and 1000 L.B.P during summer season considering that he couldn’t provide us with exact financials concerning the yield and harvest because the numbers are not stable as they are fluctuating over the years and that’s due to inconsistent temperatures and precipitations leading to early or late harvest and different yields each year.

A STRONGER SELF AND A NEW SENSE OF BELONGING-PLAN INTERNATIONAL

RMF and Plan International’s efforts to empower women subject to early marriage bears fruit as a project targeting these vulnerable groups approaches the end of its cycle

In an ideal world, people should be completely in charge of their lives and capable of making their own decisions freely and openly. However, for many individuals, this basic tenet of a decent existence might prove itself unfeasible, as circumstances, both environmental and social, tend to often impose themselves by force, and, in some cases, enslave those that are subject to them indefinitely. In the ranks of social circumstances that rob individuals of their right to make the most important choices in their lives, we can find pre-arranged and early marriage, often, but not always, going hand-in-hand, to bring about an almost tyrannical phenomenon that disguises itself under good intentions. Although there is expert consensus on the matter, one does not need to be an expert to know how devastating to the psyche, and indeed to an entire life path, early marriage can be. In an effort to empower women in the regions of Dennieh, Tripoli and Minnieh, where this tradition is still relatively common, RMF, funded by Plan International, implemented a 1.5 years project, targeting around 3000 women  of Syrian and Lebanese nationalities, between the ages of 11 and 24, subjected to early marriage. Activities such as vocational skill training, awareness raising and self-empowerment sessions were used to aid the females cope better, if not overcome, their ordeals.

“It’s not just the activities, it’s the context. I feel like I am a mother to them, and they feel like they are a family. They finally have someone that listens to them without fearing rejection or scolding. They have a new sense of belonging,” said a trainer of a sewing class. “To leave home, learn how to sew clothes for my kids during winter, and have something besides cooking to do… for a lot of women that might not mean much, but for me it means a lot. I feel more confident, more outgoing, and far less isolated. I honestly would love for RMF to make the activities last longer and be more varied in nature!” a trainee at a sewing class exclaimed. Her colleague added, “The best part is that we had the freedom to bring our kids along without worrying about who to leave them with. This helped many of us bond better as mothers.” With the positive feedback that the project has received, locals seem to be anticipating RMF’s next contribution to the region.

MORE FOR LESS IN RACHINE-USAID BALADI

Rachiine citizens note that their town feels livelier and that local businesses are performing a bit better after USAID installed LED lights all along the town’s streets.

Be it in crude physics or in metaphysics, light is an element that holds a significant and profound value. This seemingly monarchic status given to light irrespective of whether it is mentioned in an empirical or in a theoretical discussion is easily justifiable. Throughout history, night has been a very intimidating and menacing period of the day during which many innocent wanderers could easily fall victim to lurking predators or to unperceivable hazards due to how limited human vision is in pitch-black darkness. Naturally, in a slightly poetic form of expression, being our one and only weapon against what lurks in the dark abyss of night, light, through an evolutionary social pathway, as many evolutionary biologists now agree, provides us with a feeling of safety, courage, and power. In Rachiine, RMF under the BALADI program funded by USAID installed 355 LED (Light-emitting diode) streetlights benefitting 4820 residents, counting 43 members owning 39 micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMES). Bearing the aforementioned characteristics of light, it was natural that these 39 MSMES reported increased business activity, as local folk felt safer going for late-night purchases and groceries. Mayor Jerjess Zaouk estimated this increase to be at around 20% at peak activity, with slight fluctuations depending on multiple factors that are beyond the control of the locals, such as weather conditions and general economic stability. Municipality member George Tannous said: “the lights are not only powerful and bright, they are also very energy-sparing. While most of the residents only care for the added value of having an easier time wondering about at night, the municipality itself benefits a lot, as these lights save us quite a lot of money in comparison to those we previously had installed, going from a monthly $5000 to just $2600.”

Citizens like local resident Tony Mosallem praised the implementation by RMF funded by USAID for its precision and immaculate quality, hoping to see more developmental projects implemented by the agency to assist the town in the future.

ONCE LOST NOW REGAINED-USAID BALADI

Kfardlakos citizens express how they’ve regained their trust in NGOs as USAID completes a project involving the installation of Solar Water Heaters and LED Streetlights in their Town

When it comes to Humanitarian work and Philanthropy, it is often thought that since good intentions are present, and one side has a willingness to give or to assist, then naturally the second party, the beneficiaries, should by default have a willingness to receive. However, after decades of less-than-perfect implementation of projects, NGO work has been shunned in some areas of Lebanon, which gave birth to a new challenge for those involved in humanitarian work in the country, embodied by a general lack of trust in their ventures, as they scan regions for vulnerable populations with very tangible and dire needs.

“Initially we weren’t sure what to expect, we were let down by NGOs before” stated Ms. Zeina Al Ba’ee, one of the members of the families which benefited from the 64 Solar Water Heaters installed in Kfardlakos. “RMF funded by USAID did an excellent job, and they were very warm and friendly, and thankfully, the Water Heaters work great, and we’re saving a lot of money on electricity each month, I’m glad I voiced my need. I hope that we have more projects implemented by RMF and USAID moving forward,” she added. Mayor Mansour Nakad expressed that there was a general lack of trust by locals regarding the project as NGOs having been accumulating a poor reputation over the years, be it due to hearsay or to actual malpractice. “It’s a small town, and locals got to see how precise and meticulous the work of RMF is, and suddenly, those who told us they wanted no part in the project came back regretful, asking us if more Water Heaters will be installed in the future!” M. Nakad exclaimed. As an active member of Kfradlakos’ municipality, M. Marcel Nakad said that many families were pleased with the 83 LED streetlights which were installed in the region as part of the same project. He elaborated by stating that it helps locals feel safer at night, when street lights aren’t always on, and he only wished that more security enforcing projects, such as the installation of street cameras, could be implemented by RMF and USAID in the future. Around 4870 residents benefited from the project, as local beneficiaries and citizens alike said that if all future projects in the town carry the same level of seriousness in application, and sincerity in terms of humanitarianism, focusing purely on needs without segregation, then their trust in NGO work, which was once lost, can now be considered “restored”.