Part 4: Five Women on the Front Lines of the Pandemic
his post is the fourth part in a series of five articles on how women are responding to the pandemic around the world. Read “Part 1: Going House-to-House in Kenya,” “Part 2: Seeing the Downside of Depending on Imports in Zimbabwe,” and “Part 3: Turning a Difficult Situation Into an Opportunity in Guatemala.”
Helping Syrian Refugees in Lebanon in the Midst of COVID-19 and Economic Devastation
As Lebanon’s economic crisis has plunged whole segments of society, including the middle class, into poverty, Days for Girls country leader Khayrieh Al Assaad is facing the dual challenge of continuing her work with Syrian women living in crowded refugee camps, while also stepping up to help Lebanese women facing dire needs.
Khayrieh, a civil engineer by training with her own small firm, has worked with Days for Girls since 2017. A committed and passionate woman who also coaches a women's basketball team started by the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, she has traveled to the U.S. twice. The first time was with three of her basketball players, who were invited by the U.S. to train in Knoxville, Tennessee. The second time was in 2019 when she spent 10 days in Seattle training with Days for Girls. She has also taught Arabic in Turkey and is currently a youth advisor for the U.S. Embassy.
Explaining how many of the Syrian women in the Lebanese refugee camps have lost their husbands to the ongoing war in their own country and must support many children, she said, “Our first step is to help them earn money to buy food and rent places to live. Then we turn our attention to helping them stay safe during their periods.”
The Syrian refugee women have wrong information about periods and many societal rules imposed on them about what they can and cannot do during their periods. They are often married in their teens, and they do not go to doctors. Indeed, the topic of sexuality is so taboo that Khayrieh and her team must get permission from mothers first; some refuse.
Because she has run her own successful business, Khayrieh knew how to set up enterprises with 18 Syrian women. With sewing machines provided by Days for Girls, these women make both DFG kits and face masks. They have had an order for 500 kits from a Korean NGO, as well as orders from Concern Worldwide for both kits and masks. Kits are sold for $12, while masks get $1.
With the lockdown during COVID-19, the work is increasingly difficult. Camps don’t have masks, and it is impossible to go there. Working with local NGOs, Khayrieh has distributed brochures explaining how to stay safe. Another worry is that with so many men out of work, Lebanese women face the threat of domestic violence.
Despite the situation in Lebanon, she still has big dreams. She plans to create her own NGO for orphan girls who are shunned in society. Adoption is illegal, leaving the girls with bleak futures. In her vision, the girls will live in their own village and attend a school she will create for them. There is every reason to believe that with her vision and determination, she will realize her dreams.
Continue reading “Part 5: Using Social Media to Continue Vital Work in Nepal.”
Special thanks to Days for Girls volunteer, Elizabeth Titus for contributing this article.
Elizabeth Titus has been an English teacher, a journalist, an advertising executive, and a communications director (15 years at American Express). For the past decade, she has focused on pro bono consulting to nonprofits, via PennPAC, for graduates of the University of Pennsylvania; Taproot; and Catchafire. She is especially interested in gender equality and the education of girls and women. A freelance writer, her articles have appeared in Ms., Narrative, and The Humanist, among others. She lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.