The Face of CRS in the Middle East Crisis

By Ken Hackett
CRS President

As a fragile cease-fire takes hold in the Middle East, the people of Lebanon once again face the hard work of rebuilding their country. Weeks of aerial bombing have destroyed much of the infrastructure of the country that was still in the midst of recovering from a 15-year civil war when the latest hostilities broke out. People in Gaza are suffering as casualties mount and infrastructure there has been damaged or destroyed as well. And the people of northern Israel continue to live in fear of rocket attacks.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has plans for an emergency response and rehabilitation program of at least $10 million for this crisis. Much of these funds will be used to address peoples' immediate needs for food, clean water, medicine, clothing and household items. As the 900,000 people who were displaced by the fighting in Lebanon begin to return, they will need assistance in repairing their homes and their communities. And many, especially in south Lebanon, will have no homes to return to. CRS will help in the long-term task ahead of reconstruction.

CRS has also committed a substantial amount of aid to people displaced by cross-border shelling in northern Israel through contributions to the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee and the American Jewish Committee.

Throughout this crisis, there have been many stories of the dedication of CRS staff, and of our partners at Caritas Lebanon, who worked long stress-filled days to provide assistance to people displaced from their homes, as well as to the many families who opened their doors to provide shelter. There is Ali El-Benni, who has worked as an information technology specialist for CRS in Beirut since 2004. When the fighting broke out, he found himself stranded in his hometown of Saida. Ali is an I.T. guy, not a relief worker. But when the need presented itself, he rose to the challenge. He put together a project to aid 150 families who were being housed in two schools in Saida. Thanks to his efforts, the families received food, medicine, cleaning supplies, mats and blankets – all of which made an uncomfortable situation a bit more bearable.'

Adib Faris, who is the technical advisor for security on CRS' worldwide emergency response team, is another staff member who remained in Lebanon throughout the crisis. Adib was born in Beirut, but was forced to flee with his family during the civil war in the 1970s and 80s. He and his family settled in Pittsburgh, where he went to high school and later graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. He holds dual U.S./Lebanese citizenship. Adib worked with CRS in Iraq as the Chief of Security and Operations before moving to Beirut. Adib had an interesting perspective on this latest wave of violence to sweep over his homeland. “In a time of great need, I am able to help the people of a land I know so well,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I look upon its battle-scarred cities and villages, hoping that in some way I can do what I could not do as a young child -assist with all my strength and sinew this beautiful land and its people.”

And there were many heroes among our partners at Caritas Lebanon. With 36 offices around the country and a staff of nearly 100, Caritas Lebanon is widely respected as an effective humanitarian agency. Its Caritas Lebanon Migrants Center was one of the few places the 200,000 migrant workers who were stranded in the country could turn for help. Najla Chahda, director of the Migrants Center, was able to assist thousand migrants to leave the country, arranging buses that transported them to neighboring Syria, where they were able to board flights to their home countries.

It is people like Ali, Adib and Najla who are the face of CRS and Caritas, doing vital humanitarian work on behalf of all of us in the U.S. Catholic community.

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