Tuesday, July 18, 2006 - 10:30 PM - Day 7
This evening I want to talk about the displaced and refugees in Saida. We went to visit two of the public schools in Saida that are housing many families that have fled further in the South.
But first some numbers. As of noon today, Saida took in 510 families amounting to close to 3000 people in its various public schools. Eight schools were open with full occupancy and this afternoon four more centers opened including the Lebanese university (all are public institutions; however run and operated now by volunteers). 200 additional families are residing with relatives and friends in actual homes; making the total close to 4000 people. Every minute brings another family or a train of cars with families.
The municipality of Saida (just a reminder that this municipality is a coalition of forces from Saida that created a list against the Hariri list and won elections not too long ago) had created a network of committees in preparation for this exodus (having had a similar experience on some level in 1996 with Israel's Grapes of Wrath). The municipality thus was coordinating with civil society organizations including charitable associations, political parties and NGOs. The municipality and the receiving centers need to provide foam mattresses for people to sleep on, sheets and towels, cleaning supplies, all food items, medicine and medical care, entertainment, hygienic necessities; all this in coordination with the various associations, the government institutions, and the people of the city. Several local charities have been cooking daily food to feed all these families. So far, they took it upon themselves to provide 400 families with hot food. The rest is being taken care of by individual homes and people intent on providing support. I was told today of a group of small children that reside near a school that decided to go collect money from the kids in the neighborhood and buy some manakeesh for dinner for the families (manakeesh is like a small pizza made with cheese or thyme paste).
However, there is a lot more that is needed.
In short, the situation is dire and almost everything is in short supply. The families are still relatively doing well; but soon they will have more needs and more complaints. This is just to stress how detrimental the targeting of all the emergency supply trucks all day today is and will be in the near future for a country under siege.
The two schools we visited were the responsibility of three entities, one being the Martyr Rachid Broam Clinic, which provides on a daily basis low-cost clinical visits and medical social services among others. It is a leftist organization (Part of the Peoples' Party). He (meaning Rachid Broam) died with his wife and his child during the Israeli invasion of 1982.
The first school we visited (was ironically a school I spent a lot of time in growing up as my mother taught there for over 25 years) had 150 people with all ages including a 20 day old baby and mother. There was enough water and food it seemed for now. The school was equipped with some wash rooms that the families can use to wash their clothes and shower. It is a strange feeling to walk by a school and see all the clothes hanging from the windows (we are talking about a country that does not have Laundromats but washing is only done inside the homes). The kids were playing in the school playground kicking a ball or running. The displaced wanted to hold a demonstration to speak about about their support for the resistance and denounce Israel and the governments that have not done anything about the continued onslaught. These are people who have lost their homes and perhaps their loved ones. They do not know if they would be able to go back to their homes or their land again. Even though some good doers send some food supplies; yet the families do not have gas stoves to be able to cook anything or make use of it. There is also a shelter under the school that thankfully can be used in case Israel decides to air-raid Saida.
The second school we visited was a bit bigger with 300 residents and many people outside waiting in line trying to negotiate their stay in this school (many follow their relatives, however the schools are to full capacity and so they may have to be placed in another setting which naturally does not make them happy). This was a busier space which often leads to squabbles and problems. We are talking about schools, meaning that several families are placed in a classroom. There are no heaters nor air-conditions in the schools and many may or may not have glass on the windows (our public schools have been in a shitty situation since the war as the Hariri government and others that followed did not see education as a priority). So far only 100 mattresses are available which means that many are sleeping on the floor. They lacked sheets and towels, cleaning supplies, clothes, medicines many of them. The other problem in this school is that the bathrooms are in the playground only with no showers and the men's and women's bathrooms are next to each other. This is a problem for our people from the villages. They also have many children and babies including a newborn who is coming 'home' from the hospital with his mother (after having done a C-section). The volunteers decided to put her in a separate room so as not to risk any contamination or microbes for the newborn. yet they are worried. Everyone is worried about diseases and other problems of having so many people together in the same space with minimum supplies and clothes, etc... Doctors from the Clinics as well as other volunteer doctors had been visiting the schools; however medication is in shortage. A truck of medication was supposed to arrive to the city today to provide medication to all the hospitals as well as these centers. But it did not arrive. We are hoping for tomorrow. We are creating a campaign in the city tomorrow to collect sheets, towels, and mattresses as well as purchase medications to support.
The residents here sit all day talking to each other, talking on the phone trying to make sure their loved ones are okay, made it out from wherever they are okay, worrying about their homes, their jobs, their resources. How long will they last like this? They asked for a TV station because the radio that they have is not providing enough information about what is going on. What will happen to them if Saida is bombed? Will they become refugees once again? How will they go and where will they go to?
The story repeats in other schools and centers. This is the lot of those 'fortunate' ones who were able to leave their villages and were not killed while sleeping in their homes or fleeing in their cars.
I will send soon a list of possible sources to which you and others who may be interested in donating funds can do so to help in relief efforts.