Influx of Syrian refugees stresses Lebanon's economy
By Linda Espenshade
This sheep and lamb are coming to live at the home of Sabrine, center, and her aunt, Kamilla, left, in eastern Lebanon. Sabrine, a single mother, will use the sheep’s milk to provide nourishment for her family and to make yogurt she can sell for a small income. Sabrine and her three children live with Sabrine’s aunt and parents, who all deal with chronic health issues. Mohammad, a local worker, is helping to deliver these sheep, two of 40 sheep given to Lebanese families in 2015 through MCC partner, Lebanese Organization for Studying and Training. Last names are not used for their security. (Photo courtesy of LOST)
Believe it or not, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has a LOST sheep program.
Now before you let the Little Bo Peep rhyme frolic through your mind or embrace images of Jesus tenderly carrying the lost sheep back to the flock, let us explain.
After all, we wouldn’t want to pull the wool over your eyes.
MCC has a partner, Lebanese Organization for Studies and Training, which bears the acronym of LOST. And LOST is providing sheep to Lebanese families who are barely scraping by economically.
See? A LOST sheep program.
Lest you think that MCC actually is funding a program to find lost sheep, fear not. MCC and LOST know exactly where their sheep are.
They are in the yards, sheds and fields of 40 Lebanese families, some of whom are hosting Syrian refugees. By the end of March 2018, 20 more families will have LOST sheep. Lebanese and Syrian families will benefit from the locally produced products.
Sheep goat will help feed family of seven
Sabrine, a single mother of three children, is among them. Earlier this year, she received a sheep and a lamb. She will turn the sheep’s milk into cheese and yogurt to feed her family, which includes an aunt and parents, who all have chronic health issues.
As the sheep reproduce, Sabrine also can sell milk products at the market. If she remains in the three-year program, where she will get more sheep each year, she should be able to add about $100 to $125 to the family’s monthly income.
You’ll notice that we aren’t using Sabrine’s full name. That’s because she lives in an area of Lebanon where political and ethnic tensions are high. Even before 800,000 Syrian refugees crossed over the mountains and settled in this agricultural region, Christians and Shia and Sunni Muslims coexisted uncomfortably.
Now it’s worse. Syrians vie with Lebanese for seasonal and day labor jobs. Prices for everything are higher because of increased demand, but Syrians are more likely to get the support of nongovernmental organizations.
Not surprisingly, a number of Lebanese who were struggling to provide for their families before the Syrians arrived are more than a little annoyed that making a living is even harder now.
And then they had to deal with the drought of 2014 and the freeze of 2015 that destroyed most tree crops.
In such a situation, how much good are some LOST sheep?
More than you’d think, at least in the three communities where this project is being carried out.
The income from the sheep helps to relieve the economic stress which feeds the tension. Some Lebanese families have Syrian families living in their homes or on their land, but if everyone has enough food, sharing is a lot easier.
Training equips ownership, aimed at women
To make the most of this income-generation project, LOST offers trainings on how to make the most profit from sheep, how to keep them healthy, how to do bookkeeping and how to market the products.
This training is geared toward women—a group that LOST believes can do a lot for the wellbeing of the whole community if they can be empowered within a patriarchal society. Teaching women how to make money is one way to empower them.
Women also are empowered as they learn to address conflict in their communities and in their families during monthly peacebuilding trainings.
During the three-year project, as participants attend the trainings with others who have different political and religious persuasions, some of their resistance to “the other” decreases. At the marketplace, where some men protest the presence of the opposite sex, women use their training to diffuse this conflict.
And sometimes the training just helps resolve conflicts at home that occur because of the stressful situation they are living in or that grow out of women taking on more influential roles in their families.
Sheep help owners cope emotionally
Nada, a Lebanese mother of three children, says she suffered psychologically when her husband became disabled by a heart attack at 50. As a result, she says she would lash out harshly with her children, especially her oldest son, Mustafa. His grades deteriorated and his attitude became worse so she punished him harder.
“The mess got worse and I was losing my son,” Nada says. “In this troubled time I was attending a conflict resolution course at LOST and it popped into my mind that I should use the techniques I am learning to solve my son’s problem.”
At home, she explained her feelings to her son and asked him for forgiveness. She promised never to punish him physically again.
After that, she says, “He seems like a new kid, a man with a purpose of making me proud with his chores, school work and the way he takes the time to care for Lola (Yep, that’s the name of their sheep) and her new offspring.”
And so you see, one LOST sheep is not so much on its own, but when the sheep and the training go together, even a lost son can be found. If those kinds of situations multiply as we expect the sheep to do, peace will grow too, and that’s not a baa-d result at all.
Mennonite Central Committee is an inter-Mennonite relief, development peace agency that serves in the name of Christ.