As a Lebanese American, the country and current issues are near and dear to me. I have grown up hearing stories of my parents and their families in Lebanon and identify closely with the culture and the people. As Lebanese Americans, we have witnessed the impacts of the Syrian refugee crisis on Lebanon. Lebanon hosts the highest number of refugees per capita in the world—estimated between 25%-30% of the population. This significant challenge places an incredible strain on resources. On behalf of the American people, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is working with Lebanese partners to deliver things like improved water services and quality education to Lebanon.
USAID’s Work in Lebanon
USAID is committed to a stable, independent, and prosperous Lebanon at peace with its neighbors. The U.S. has been working in Lebanon since the 1950s, partnering with both the public and private sectors to help increase access to education, improve water and wastewater services, ensure good governance, enhance academic and economic opportunity, particularly in underserved areas, and protect the environment. You can read more about our programming in Lebanon here.
U.S. assistance to the education sector in Lebanon rehabilitates and improves school buildings, equips classrooms, and pays enrollment fees for vulnerable children. To date, USAID’s projects have benefitted 1,018 out of Lebanon’s total 1,271 public schools, which educate both Lebanese and Syrian students. USAID has trained and empowered public school educators and other personnel to better prepare their students for 21st century skills.
Last month, I was in Lebanon to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between USAID and the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE). This MOU defines a framework for cooperation between USAID and MEHE to improve education and increase access to quality education in Lebanon’s public schools.
As we know, water infrastructure in Lebanon is outdated and in disrepair. Over the past 15 years, USAID has invested over $180 million in the water sector, enabling about two million people to benefit from improved water services.
In the Beka’a, a region hosting high concentrations of Syrian refugees, USAID installed chlorination systems and water networks to increase quality and supply for more than 100,000 people. Last year, I visited the USAID-rehabilitated Customer Service Center in Zahle. Thanks to this center, trained personnel, and computerized systems, customers can now pay their water bills, report service disruptions and leaks, ask questions, address complaints, and subscribe for water service, all in the same place.
Already, these improvements have led to increased billing collection of 38%. It is expected that these changes will continue to restore customers’ trust in their public water utility and increase the number of Beka’a residents provided with drinking water.
Supporting the Lebanese Economy
Another USAID project I am passionate about is the Lebanon Industry Value Chain project (LIVCD), which aims to improve Lebanon's economic stability and provide opportunities for women and youth in rural areas across Lebanon through the support of eight priority sectors: avocados, cherries, honey, olive oil, pome fruits, processed foods, rural agriculture basket, and rural tourism.
Through LIVCD, USAID has partnered with the Lebanese Mezze, a family-owned, local food processing facility that creates job opportunities, otherwise non-existent or highly saturated by foreign workers, for Lebanese women with modest backgrounds and minimal education, in order to help them provide for their families and take part in work opportunities. The Lebanese Mezze supports Lebanese crafters to make traditional Lebanese food, from Lebanese raw materials.
I had the opportunity to visit the Lebanese Mezze last fall and was very impressed by the facility and employees. Through USAID’s partnership, the Lebanese Mezze has improved production through new machinery and expanded to international markets.
USAID is supporting entrepreneurship in Lebanon to unleash the talent of Lebanese entrepreneurs through its MENA Investment Initiative (MENA II). This project is aimed at promoting early business start-ups, stimulating innovation, and supporting the adoption of improved business technology and business practices. MENA II also reaches out to support skilled young and innovative entrepreneurs who are coming up with more effective products, processes, services, technologies, and ideas, but are struggling to secure capital.
Recently, USAID’s co-funded startup accelerator selected two Lebanese start-ups to participate in a training program in Silicon Valley. This training aimed to help build these startups into global businesses by updating them on emerging trends in technology and business models, and expanding their networks.
Engaging with the Lebanese Community
I am passionate about my agency’s work in Lebanon and understand that in order to build the prosperous Lebanon we all care so deeply about, it is essential to partner together. USAID’s support provides quality and reliable services to Lebanon's citizens in the sectors of education, water, economic growth, and governance, but we cannot do it alone. I recognize this. On April 21 and 22, 2016, I will travel to Houston to engage with the Lebanese diaspora community to discuss ways we can partner and open the door for this discussion.
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