DSC Lebanon’s New Campaign: SIGN UP AND SAVE LIVES!

I’ve been in DSC since the very early days, and even though I admit I haven’t been as much help as I’d like to be, DSC’s always had a special place in my heart.

Since its humble beginnings with one man’s wish to make people dying because lack of available donor blood a thing of the past in Lebanon, DSC has achieved seemingly the impossible in just a few years.

With an ever-growing database of healthy, willing blood donors in Lebanon that fulfill hundreds of requests for blood donations, and save and improve thousands of lives every single month, DSC has become a household name. Their weekly blood drives with their brand new donation truck, visits different parts of Lebanon and collects enough blood bags to make sure local hospitals have enough supply in case the worst happens.

Their new initiative is to add 10,000 new awesome donors in just 10 months, and if you still haven’t, please sign up here! And if you can’t donate blood (if you’re too young, or for medical reasons), you can still support DSC by being a volunteer! Check out their Facebook page and apps if you don’t like traditional websites.

This is NOT the Official Lebanese Red Cross Instagram Account!

LRCFake

The Lebanese Red Cross is my absolute favorite NGO. I love them, and the one regret I have in my entire life is not trying to become one of their volunteer life-savers. They save tens of thousands of lives every year, and help hundreds of thousands of others. They do the immense job our government is supposed to in an extremely professional way, on a volunteer basis.

So, I was appalled when I saw this screenshot being shared all over Facebook and Twitter criticizing them. Of course, I couldn’t believe it was actually the official account, and made some calls to my very dear friends, the heroes in the LRC and inquired about this.

This is positively NOT the official account of the LRC. Instagram has been contacted and they’re awaiting the account’s suspension and hopefully transfer into the proper hands.

This post was more appropriate for a cheap Lebanese brand, “zoozoo ibba” style, not the beyond-reproachable Lebanese Red Cross affiliated with the ICRC. It’s sad when people hijack big names and NGOs like that on social media. People should know better.

I believe the LRC will release a statement in the coming few hours on their actual official Facebook page here.

We love you girls and guys in red and white! Be safe, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything you do for us.

EPIC: Electronic Music Using Lebanese Cedar Tree Rhythms

This is pure gold in every sense of the word for me.

It’s absolute geek porn. Bioacoustic Engineering to extract the natural rhythm of an ancient cedar tree? Well, that definitely gave me a biology geek tingle. But, when I heard the result: an electronic music track built around that 3000-year-old frequency, that tingle definitely exploded into a full-on bio-geek-party-animal eargasm.

For the cherry on top, it’s the one thing we identify with as Lebanese: our Cedar tree, that gorgeous, majestic tree that you can sit under for thousands of generations, and no matter how hot the weather was, you’d feel the priceless breeze in the shade of the symbol of our tiny, turbulent nation.

Our cedar trees never change, but Lebanon has transformed more times than we can count. And these changes have made it impossible for our Cedars to survive today, much less procreate for tomorrow. I bought the album, and you should too. I also want to hear the tracks in the summer parties in Beirut, spun by the DJs to a crowd of people like us, who if we ever survive to have children and grandchildren, can never take them for a hike in a cedar forest, but merely show them the stencils of one that cover the streets of our polluted cities, a remnant of an ancient past that predates us, which we managed to obliterate with our negligence and shortsightedness.

Listen, dance, support. I absolutely loved this initiative. Here’s the link to listen and buy (for just 3$)

Pre-Order Maamoul for a Cause This Easter

Date Maamoul

Maamoul is the traditional dessert we all lover serving. It’s especially the case during Easter, when many Christian families serve the delicacy to their guests wishing them a Happy Easter.

This year, Little Helps is making sure every little piece of yumminess helps those in need, regardless of who they are and where they come from. So, don’t buy pre-packaged maamoul from big chains, but buy these ones, made with love and care and help someone in need. Wanna bake some yourself to help? Sure! Just get in touch.

Email or call littlehelpslebanon@gmail.com 03450390 – 03240073

And a Happy Easter to you all!

#NoLawNoVote: Go Down to Parliament This Morning, Please

unnamed

All of you have jobs, and school. Maybe you just think you have something better to do. You don’t. Nothing is more important that this.

Far too many women have died, far too many have lived in fear and depression. This is the perfect way to pressure our disgusting MPs into doing the right thing.

Take your lunch break early, and go down to parliament. Please. I beg you. I feel so tormented I am not there myself physically, but I know I can count on all of you.

The law to protect women against domestic violence’s time was decades ago. Let’s not wait a single day more.

RSVP and SHARE!

Nahr El Kalb Alarming Pollution Levels

1418170_644090602304687_1848563859_n 10013796_644090462304701_465170147_nPhotos by Haig Melikian

Lebanon’s rivers are famous for being toxic waste dumps and cesspools of repulsive odors and disease. Just to give you an idea of how bad, an animal rights advocate who was helping in the attempted capture of the Beirut River crocodile, got some river water splashed into his eyes, and could not see for 10 days…

The heavily polluted rivers were the Beirut River and the aptly named Nahr El Mot (river of death). Nahr El Kalb’s main feature has been being virtually dried up all the time, but somewhat swimmable, or at least not lethally toxic for people with their dogs.

In recent weeks though, the river has been severely polluted by a new brick factory upstream. The water is opaque, and any animal or plant life in the river’s ecosystem is probably long gone by now…

Nahr El Kalb is a river people still actually go and sit next to, in restaurants and wedding venues and even water theme parks on its banks. To see it become this disgusting, industrial sludge is just sad, especially since reports are confirming that the new brick factory is owned by locals, who the municipality is turning a blind eye to.

It’s sad that good relations with the municipality trumps the environmental cost of a careless industrial venture. A venture so close to Nahr El Kalb’s historic bridges, homes and the sometimes painful reminders scattered in the valley left by all the armies that have conquered Lebanon throughout history.

Another Victory for Lebanon’s LGBT Community

941360_10151375011291491_417815943_n

Judge Naji Dahdah has become the second Lebanese judge to interpret Lebanon’s notorious Article 534 in the Lebanese penal code which states “sexual acts against nature” can be punished by up to a year in prison, in the right way.

As a biologist, the fact that homosexuality is natural is a no-brainer. Virtually every animal species exhibits homosexual behavior in individuals of both genders. So, it is not in fact “against nature” and thus, judges that are fair and were born after the First World War will rule accordingly.

The first such victory in court was in Batroun a couple of years back, and Lebanon has the Beirut-based, pan-Arab NGO Legal Agenda to thank for this feat, which comes after a string of victories in the civil rights movement for Lebanon’s LGBT community. First, with the ban of the absurd “anal virginity tests” after a recommendation from the syndicates of both lawyers and medical doctors in Lebanon. Second, with the Batroun not guilty verdict setting a precedent. And third, with the Lebanese Psychiatric Society reiterating that homosexuality is not a disease.

Judge Dahdah dismissed a case filed against a transgender woman, accusing her of “having same sex relationships with another man”

To everyone still not ok with all of this, please, just remember, who the fuck are you to have a say in other people’s lives when it doesn’t affect you? Mind your own business and stop worrying what gays, lesbians, transgender and other gender minorities do with their lives, their bodies and who they choose to love.

Also, massive as this step is, Lebanon still has a long way to go. Judge Dahdah might have been a reasonable man, but as we all know, many if not most of Lebanon’s judges are inept and corrupt. And unfortunately, our outdated judiciary system doesn’t take legal precedents into account, and handles issues case-by-case. So, next time a similar case is filed, the judge might choose to rule differently, regardless of the two brilliant legal precedents set in Batroun and Jdeideh.

From Downtown Beirut to Aarsal: Tales of Compassion and Hardship

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 2.38.32 PM

The past weekend I was off the grid. Ditched my meetings, sleep and all the usual stuff I do in the weekend. Instead, I joined hundreds and thousands of Lebanese people come together to fill the gaps the government and the rest of the world couldn’t.

On Saturday, what I was seeing in the I AM NOT A TOURIST initiative was mind-blowing. Person after person, family after family, walked in with huge bags and carts full of blankets, shoes, warm clothes, toys and other basic necessities that the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee families were severely lacking. It was amazing and indescribable seeing so many people, with their children and friends and colleagues, come all the way to Downtown Beirut and donate everything they could spare or buy. Coming together to fill a gap that makes us human and humane. In total, twenty five trucks in total were donated, and donors who saw that the volunteers needed help, just donned the yellow vests and went right in and started helping us with the sorting and packing and loading. Just, wow.

It was Sunday though, that really moved me. The Lebanese for Syrian Refugees initiative which gathered thousands of dollars in donations, from around the world, as well as a ton of medication, clothes and blankets, set out from Monot Street in Gemmayzeh to go all the way up to Aarsal’s hinterlands between Lebanon and Syria.

This place is a legit no-mans-land where neither the Lebanese or Syrian governments have jurisdiction, and where international aid NGOs cannot operate. There are hundreds of families there though, and they are surviving on barely anything in below-freezing temperatures, inadequate shelter and basically no food.

I’ve been to many field missions over the past two years, both on my own and with UN agencies like the UNHCR and WFP. However, the conditions in Aarsal were by far the toughest. It was very cold, very dangerous and very remote. The basics agencies like the UNHCR provide were unattainable, and not even the road was accessible save for a well-prepared 4×4 vehicles.

Photos courtesy of Jad Ghorayeb and Gino Raidy

What sank my heart, is perhaps the most random thing you would expect to see in Aarsal’s hinterlands: a derelict theme park. A ferris wheel and other rides designed to draw a smile on a kid’s face in better times, had become a make-shift shelter for a few families there, their soaked clothes hanging to dry from the rides’ carriages, make-shift tents created by draping plastic covers over a merry-go-round giving them the only shelter in the -2C, snow-covered area.

As always, it was the kids that impact you the most. Their faces serious as they maneuver through the ice and snow between their tents. As kids, snow was the ultimate fun. The second it snowed, we’d all run outside and have snowball fights and build snowmen. But, for these kids, snow was a potential killer. What is a source of joy for most, is a source of bone-crushing pain for the 40 families we visited. Wearing nothing but flip-flops, the kids would run over to the volunteers, who were distributing games, boots, clothes and blankets that lit up their dirty, rash-stricken, tiny faces with a smile as wide as I’ve ever seen.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 2.38.21 PM

After a few hours, all the aid we’d brought was evenly distributed, and that’s when the real help in my opinion was provided: diesel fuel oil to power their heaters. In a place where no electricity or plumbing exists, the only way to stay warm is by lighting a fire. But, what little trees Aarsal had were already chopped down, and in the frozen desert up there, mazoot was the only way to stay warm. Thousands of liters of mazoot coupons were distributed, but that wasn’t nearly enough. It’d last each family the week, tops, and that’s as vital as possible in the below-freezing temperatures with just a tent to shield you from the frost-bite level cold.

What Lebanese for Syrian Refugees did was magnificent, and I am extremely proud to have been able to help. But, it wasn’t enough, and we have a lot more to do. We’re going up next week as well, and we’re following up with the locals up there to make sure we can provide anything urgent they might need. Next week, we’re going up with a fully-equipped mobile clinic that’ll provide all the medical assistance and preventive medicine we can muster, and we’ll need your help. Go to our Facebook page, no matter where you are in the world, to find out how you can help.

I AM NOT A TOURIST: Donate Clothes and Blankets This Christmas

WCHOn these blog’s pages, I’ve chronicled or tried to chronicle what it’s like to be a Syrian refugee in Lebanon. I tried to cover the uplifting stories, since all the news is heartbreaking, horrifying and tragic. I went on field missions with the UNHCR [link] and the WFP [link], and despite the great work these UN agencies and all their international and local partners are doing, the sheer scale of the crisis makes it impossible to guarantee even the basics to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who sought refuge in Lebanon.

One beautiful thing that happened when I published these articles, was the storm of private messages and emails asking me how people can help, which sort of restored some faith in humanity, especially with the racist reactions that get so much attention in the media…

Khadija and Amjad are refugees from @Aleppo, #Syria. Living as refugees in #Lebanon's #Bekaa Valley now and trying to make the best of a terrible storm. Built a snow man

Anyway, it’s Christmas now, and there’s a wonderful initiative THIS SATURDAY to gather blankets and clothes for Syrian refugees in the Bekaa and Akkar. Temperatures in the Northern part of Lebanon and in the Bekaa Valley dip below freezing regularly for months, and with little more than a tent or unheated humble abode, the refugees need a lot of warm clothing and blankets.

We all have an extra sweatshirt, a pair of pants that doesn’t fit us well, a scarf or two, warm socks, hats, and blankets. And I’m sure we can all afford to get a brand new blanket or two that’ll not only make someone’s life more bearable this winter, but also help the most vulnerable of them survive.

So, this SATURDAY from 11:00AM till 6:00PM at The Beirut By Bike Area in Downtown Beirut and donate anything you can spare. I’m gonna head down there before going to ABC for our Gino’s Blog and Live Love Beirut collaboration for Christmas.

Anyway, RSVP to the event here, and SHARE it!