This week I got to see something that is actually making a dent in one of the Middle East problems.
I have recently begun partnering with the Middle East Council of Churches as a communications specialist, which means the great opportunity to visit their various sites and programs in the region. One such program is ICNDR—the Inter Church Network for Development and Rehabilitation. In a nutshell, this program tries to improve the situations of “vulnerable” people.
Among the most vulnerable people here are women.
Because this is a patriarchal society, women are under the authority and control of their fathers, brothers, and husbands. Women are often looked upon as property and, in many cases, are abandoned by their husbands without any notice. A family’s daughter is less likely to receive an education than the son. A Lebanese woman who is married to a foreigner doesn’t have the right to pass her nationality to her husband or children. And that’s not even getting to the issues of physical/sexual/emotional abuse.
In general, women here are often seen and treated as…less.
And when poverty is in the mix, a woman is even more vulnerable
ICNDR is addressing the needs of women in the Naba’a neighborhood of Burj Hammoud, a suburb of Beirut. This is one of the poorest areas, with low income and education, and high unemployment and school drop-outs.
Naba’a is also one of the more diverse areas: Christian and Muslim, Lebanese and Syrian, Kurdish and Turkish and Armenian; all of the sects—and the resulting tensions—are well-represented here.
How is ICNDR helping women? By EMPOWERING them.
One way they do that is through language training. If, say, a Kurdish woman doesn’t know Arabic, she’s going to get cheated in the job and marketplace. Knowing the dominant language makes her less vulnerable.
ICNDR empowers women in a significant way by giving them a marketable skill. This week I got to visit their training program for beauty technicians. For ten weeks, women learn all about this field, which is always in demand here. The fact that these women can set up business in their homes while simultaneously caring for their children is a plus.
On the day I visited, about thirty women—young and old—were in class. Some of the women were Lebanese, but many of them were refugees from Iraq and Syria. The cities they were from—Mosul, Qamashli, Hassake—these places were hit hard by Daesh/ISIS.
As class began, the instructor opened up a GIANT makeup case to lecture about various makeup application techniques. One of the student was called up to be a live model of the various skills the instructor wanted to demonstrate, all projected on big screens for everyone to see.
Eventually, all the students divided into pairs and took their places at one of the makeup tables that lined the walls. One student would sit in the chair while the other would apply her with makeup. After the instructor gave her evaluation , the students would trade places.
While the students were busy with their work, the program director, Gaby, took me around the room to meet each of the student pairs.
It was there—in these student-pairings—that I saw the miracle.
At the first table we visited, the woman applying the makeup was wearing a black Hijab; her partner in the chair had no head-covering. The Muslim women is in deep concentration, focusing on her partner’s face, for long stretches of time. Eventually they would trade places, and this face-to-face interaction would continue.
Gaby summed the miracle up in three words:
We went from pair to pair, and Gaby told the same story:
A while back I read a book called “The Faces of Forgiveness,” about how people with unresolved hurt can’t “Face” each other , but how true reconciliation/forgiveness allows them to truly look each other in the eye.
Somehow, these women were figuring it out.
Here, among the ones that get favored the least and overlooked the most—something’s happening–something that our politicians and our militaries sure as hell haven’t figured out.
These women who are broke and desperate are given a shot to pull themselves out of their hole—and so they’ve found something in common, something to pull together on.
And it’s here that all the stuff Jesus says–about the first and the last and weakness Real Power—starts to make sense to me.
And still we seem intent to find our solutions and salvation where we are STRONG: Resources and Status and Position and Force.
Real Power…is in the last place we want to look.