Sometimes, dignity is not lost, but rather stripped from us.
During the week of November 23, 2020, Ahla Fawda, a nonprofit organization based in Lebanon, visited one of the hidden (and to say the least forgotten and ignored) slums of Beirut. Nothing could have prepared them for the squalor they were about to witness.
What started with an assessment visit turned into a heart wrenching wake up call, and a dire call for action. The conditions that a family of seven were living under were not only difficult to witness, but even too painful to photograph. Protecting the dignity of this family, Iman Assaf, the Founder and President of Ahla Fawda, reached out to the Dammeh for Humanity team in this heartfelt letter:
"A truly unforgettable, incredibly sad and in some ways very special day in my diary.
Sana, Myself, the Contractor and our driver went on an assessment trip to help homes that needed our attention, and families that needed our support. Our universal assessment would involve taking pictures to record the level of damage and repairs needed. Despite the fact that we conducted the same assessment, took the measurements, and drafted notes, not one of us felt there was a need to photograph everything or anything at all.
We got back into our cars, and some of us could not hold back the tears. The home housed a family of 7, or to put it in perspective, a 25 square Meter space divided into three areas; a bedroom, a small sitting room and a tiny kitchenette, was occupied by 3 adults, and 4 young children. Living conditions are precarious to say the least, with barely any furniture: two couches and a bunk bed to be exact. As for the bathroom, it is a shared area, located OUTDOORS in an alley. Believe us when we say that, no words, absolutely no words, can describe it. To think young children have to use that bathroom, an inadequate space with a high risk for disease contraction, is beyond heart-wrenching.
Why didn’t we take pictures? To protect whatever dignity is left hidden among those sad walls. Why did we cry? It goes down to the simple question of how we can move on and simply accept the injustice that some people are living through, after having witnessed it with our own eyes. I cannot stop thinking about those families and the adverse living conditions they have to endure every day of their lives. Dignity is integral to a person's identity, and our homes and living conditions contribute a lot to how we carry ourselves and how we identify ourselves. We could not wrap our heads around how others were living in such conditions, how they are merely existing in such a state of destitution, with no hope of salvation.
We left this vulnerable family’s home, moving from another family ‘home’ to another. Each tiny ‘house’ in the hidden slums of Beirut was telling the story of a family with limited capacity to exist. These families are just waiting, praying, hoping, and doing their best to survive each day... with nothing to hope for. They are existing and passing time alive until whatever comes next … and whatever comes next is never something positive. Nothing that comes their way is a step out of their desperate situations, but just another step towards absolute despair.
We did not question whether we will be able to do the repairs. We did not discuss the budget. There was no question about it. We would restore their homes and restore some of their dignity. We would make the necessary changes to bring some positive light back into their lives. We will!
We do not measure ourselves and our work by how many windows we can repair, or how many doors we can replace. We do not set our projects based on numbers and quantifiable data that can be shared on social media or that will give us social recognition. Our mission and vision, our matrix for measuring success and impact, have always been the impact and the quality of the work we do - to make a positive difference in people's lives, and this is exactly what we are going to do.
We believe that we will find a way, and we know that we can count on your trust and support to join us in this very special endeavor. Together, we can restore pride, health, dignity, and for once, give the people who have lost all hope the feeling of love and compassion. It is not until we do our work from a compassionate lens, that we can start measuring our impact.”