Today we had two more meetings. I will tell you a little about each, but first I want to talk about electricity.
I haven’t mentioned electricity so far on my blog. Beirut has the appearance of a modern European city, however the infrastructure is seriously lacking. When the Israeli’s pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, they did their best to destroy as much of Lebanon’s infrastructure as possible. Some things have been repaired and redeveloped, but the electric grids have not. The issue of electricity is really coming to fruition this summer while we are here because people are unbearably hot without AC. There have been protests with people burning tires in the streets. Our very first night in Beirut we experienced two power outages while we were at dinner, each lasting less than one minute. Nearly everyday we have experienced similar power outages for short amounts of time. Anyone who is slightly well off and all restaurants and businesses all have their own generators for back up when the electricity is out. The issue of electricity shows that while Beirut is trying to become a modern European city and travel destination it still has a ways to go.
So for our two meetings today:
Our first meeting was with Youssef Fawaz, the Executive Director of a non profit called Al Majmoua, which is a micro-credit program founded by Save the Children in 1994. In 2003 Al Majmoua became financially self-sustainable and is the leading microfinance NGO in Lebanon. I really enjoyed this meeting because Al Majmoua primarily gave micro-loans to groups of women in the beginning. The loans that they give run from as low as $100 to $5000. Starting in 2001 they began giving loans to men and individuals. Al Majmoua currently has 32,000 clients with a $32 million portfolio. The average loan for a group of women is about $600 and usually goes towards hairdresser or food processing supplies. The average loan for an individual is around $1500 and for men usually goes towards woodworking or some other similar handicraft. Al Majmoua has grown to 19 offices across the country and a staff of 225. One of the issues they currently deal with is recruiting female loan officers. They must have a certain number of female loan officers so that they can go out and meet with the groups of women who are applying for loans. Although Lebanon is more liberal and progressive than many other Middle Eastern countries, it would still be unacceptable for a male loan officer to meet alone with a group of married women.
It was disappointing that Fawaz came off as very pessimistic in his hopes for the Lebanese government. He said the “country is politically bankrupt” and that it is a zero sum game trying to get anything done through the central government.
Our second meeting was at An-nahar which is the primary Arabic newspaper. It was very interesting to hear their optimism about the future of newspaper. When many say that newspaper will obviously face an end, they believe that through adapting to new conditions the newspapers can still exist. The men we spoke with shared that they future role of newspapers is more focus on analysis and less on breaking news because breaking news can easily be shared on Twitter and other online media. Our primary reason for meeting at An-nahar is a program that they have called Youth Shadow Government (YSG). This is a very cool program for youth approximately ages 20-26 to shadow the actual Lebanese government. These youth are assigned Ministers or more than one depending on what makes sense. They follow what policies these Ministers are focusing on and then develop their own individual projects that are often picked up by the Ministers and given national focus. The purpose of the YSG is to empower the youth to be active and involved in their government. The program has been very successful so far in accomplishing its goal and has had alumni of the program go on to many levels of government involvement.
A new program that has grown out of YSG is Lebanese Young Leaders for Tomorrow. The young man who was speaking with us had graduated from the YSG and is currently in the new program.
Oh in between our two meetings we had a tour of American University of Beirut’s campus. It’s very beautiful and just a minute walk from the beach. If I had longer than one year left in my undergrad I would love to study abroad there. Explanation of photos: 1. Graffiti in Beirut outside of Al-Majmoua office. 2. Me on AUB campus in front of main entrance. 3. Banyan tree on AUB Campus. 4. Pretty flowers on AUB campus. Well I think that’s enough for today! Peace and blessing 🙂