Over 7,000 miles away from San Francisco, I’ve finally arrived in Lebanon to start my fellowship with Al Majmoua , a microfinance institution based in Beirut but with mulitiple branches around the country. Flying from my last connection in Dubai to Beirut, we cross over an endless expanse of desert as we pass over Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The desert starts to make way to rocky mountain peaks as we fly over Syria and finally I start to see specs of green -al-arz (the cedars) – I’ve arrived.
The noise from the screaming kids (in-flight entertainment system was broken-lovely) and exasperated parents dies down to a quiet murmur as we start to get our first glimpses of the Mediterranean and the Lebanese shoreline. The entire plane is silenced by this stunning view – sandy beaches, rocky coasts and plummeting cliffs. All the last-minute nervousness and doubts I had when boarding my plane from the US (quitting my job given the current economic climate, leaving my rent-controlled apartment, getting rid of my goldfish…) melt away as I watch the electric blue waters of the sea and recognize various Lebanese landmarks – this is why I came here.
This country is rich in history and culture , it’s capital –Beirut- was once known as the “Paris of the Middle-East” . Fifteen-years of civil war seriously damaged the country’s economic infrastructure. Lebanon started to recover but the war of 2006 set the economy back yet again. However, what I admire most about this country and its people is their ability to bounce-back- nothing phases them – they just pick-up where they left off and rebuild as necessary . I came here because I wanted to see the power of microfinance in improving these peoples’ lives and in aiding to restore this already-on-the-mend “Paris of the Middle-East” to its former glory – it’s time again for Lebanon to be recognized for its rich heritage, its peoples’ “joie de vivre” and its breath-taking beauty.
Alia Rafeh is part of KF8 and will be working with Al Majmoua in Lebanon for 11 weeks where she will attempt not to completely butcher the language. To fund borrowers from Al Majmoua on Kiva, click here./>