It may come as a surprise to many that Christmas is even acknowledged in Lebanon never mind celebrated, but as I write there is a Christmas tree in the office hallway and we are organising the secret santa.

Office Christmas Tree

Over the past couple of days the whole of Beirut has been transformed into a festive wonderland, with sparkling lights adorning trees, shops and anything close enough to an electrical socket. Given the fact that Lebanon is in the Middle East many people are surprised by the size of the Christian community, admittedly you can’t walk 100 metres without passing a mosque, but for every minaret and dome there is a church spire.

It is refreshing that in contrast to the UK where Christmas advertisements and songs appear in November and sometimes October, that the focus is not on buying the latest ‘must have’ present, but on the spirit of Christmas.
With 18 different official religious sects in the country, Lebanon has a large number of national holidays, since I began my fellowship with ACSI in November, we have celebrated Eid, Independence Day, Islamic New Year and we will celebrate Ashura this week, Christmas next , New Years and then Armenian Christmas on 6th January.

Islamic Lights

And whilst people might not actively participate in each other’s holidays they all have the same time off work to spend with their families. This ensures that people respect each other’s religious beliefs (most of us would embrace the fact that our colleagues were a different religion to us if we got a day off work whilst they celebrate). By making them national holidays for all it ensures that there is no ‘them and us’.

With so many Lebanese holidays, coupled with national holidays in Iraq where all our branches and borrowers are based, it has been a bit of a slow process getting the loan profiles uploaded onto the Kiva website, especially as there are different working weeks, Sunday to Thursday in Iraq and Monday to Friday in Lebanon.

Festive Palm Trees

But we have managed to reach a milestone and posted $50,000 worth of loans on www.kiva.org this month which is the maximum that ACSI is currently able to raise, and double the amount of previous months lending. So far half of the loans have been funded which is fantastic and fingers crossed that they will all be fully funded before the start of 2011.

Caroline Pattinson is currently serving as a Kiva Fellow, with CHF ACSI, (Access to Credit Services Initiative) Iraq in Beirut, Lebanon. To join the ACSI funding group and receive regular updates on their work and loans   click  here.


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