A centre that is supported by the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development (LSESD) in a deprived and rundown suburb of Beirut, which has been described as ‘a lighthouse in a dark place’ and ‘a haven of hope’, is the focus of this year’s Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) World Development Appeal (WDA), the all-Ireland denomination has announced.
Through this annual Appeal, which has taken place in the run up to Christmas and into the New Year for over 40 years, PCI congregations from across the island normally raise between £300,000 (€348,000) and £500,000 (€581,000) to support life-changing sustainable development projects in some of the poorest communities and disadvantaged places on the planet.
Traditionally supporting the work of PCI’s relief and development partners, Tearfund and Christian Aid, in a number of countries across the globe, this year’s Appeal is entitled ‘Rekindled Hope: From flight to flourishing’. As Rev Liam Rutherford, Convener of the World Development Appeal Committee explained, the 2022 lead project that will benefit from the generosity of Irish Presbyterians is supported by Tearfund’s partner, the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development. The Centre is in a southern suburb of Beirut where the majority of residents are stateless – Syrian and Palestinian refugees living beside undocumented Lebanese nationals.
In his first Appeal as Convener, the minister of Ballydown Presbyterian Church near Banbridge, spoke of what he called ‘forgotten people’ and how the news cycle, often by necessity, moves on to the next big story leaving behind those who were once headline news.
Mr Rutherford said, “The situation in Lebanon has become one such forgotten place. A country which faces enormous political, social and economic challenges itself, where 80% of the population live below the poverty line, it hosts around 1.5 million refugees who fled the civil war in Syria, alongside a long-term Palestinian refugee community of over 200,000 people. With refugees making up 25% of the population, this is the highest percentage of refugees hosted by any country in the world.”
“As the majority of people living in this particular suburb are stateless they are less likely to be enrolled in public schools or have access to health services. The Centre, however, provides primary and secondary level education for children, while offering free and low-cost treatment in its health centre and is one of few places where Syrian and Lebanese learn together. It also empowers local women through opportunities to generate income through it onsite sewing school,” he said.
With the impact of the cost of living crisis at home, Mr Rutherford said that he very much understood that this year times were hard and asked Presbyterians to pray and see how they could give sacrificially. “While we have been blessed in so many different ways, through the Appeal we have a wonderful opportunity to support the work of this Centre, which is a lighthouse in a dark place and a genuine haven of hope to people who have very little of it.”
Established almost 25 years ago, Rev Richard Kerr, PCI’s chair of the Council for Global Mission’s Global Development Committee, visited the LSESD supported Centre in Beirut earlier this year with Tearfund. “What we found amongst the ramshackle concrete buildings was a place that chose to be in the midst of one of the most impoverished and deprived districts of the city, working with some of the poorest and marginalised of people caught in an inter-generational cycle of poverty.”
The Minister for Templepatrick Presbyterian continued, “It is a welcoming place that offers an opportunity for people to flourish, addressing the needs of the whole person, and we saw that in many different ways. In a country struggling with mammoth challenges, these people are all but forgotten – yet not by God or by His people.”
Glen Mitchell, Head of Tearfund in Northern Ireland, who had also been on the visit to the Centre said, “We are so grateful for PCI’s faithful partnership with Tearfund through their World Development Appeal. With the generous support of Presbyterian congregations across Ireland, this Centre will be able to continue its holistic work within a community that has experienced deep traumas due to conflict, Covid and crisis.”
Speaking about his visit to the Centre, Mr Mitchell continued, “I was deeply moved by the dedication of the Centre’s staff, as they displayed their love for the children and their families, and their desire to see this community of displaced, disregarded, and disenfranchised people transformed into a place of thriving. The World Development Appeal will help to support the Centre’s pre-school, early years and entry level education programmes, parenting classes, adult learning, and income-generating projects, and through these, rekindle hope in this area of Beirut.”
While the Centre in Beirut is the lead project for the 2022 World Development Appeal, it will also support a second featured project in South Sudan through Christian Aid’s partner, the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC). Following the outbreak of violence in 2013, one in three people in South Sudan is an Internally Displaced Person. The huge movement of people around the country, with already existing tribal tensions, has led to conflict.
The Church’s ability to speak into these situations of conflict is unique and the SSCC is working at community level to bring reconciliation across South Sudan. The Council of Churches provides displaced people with psychosocial support, space and accompaniment to achieve peaceful resolutions at local level. The Appeal will also support similar projects in other areas of the world.
Read more from PCI on their website.