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Practical Transformations

A Letter from Elmarie and Scott Parker, serving in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria

Summer 2022

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Dear friends,

Farmers in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley share something important in common with rural women having various physical disabilities and living in the isolated mountain communities of Lebanon. Both are collaborating with PC(USA) partners who are committed to long-term, transformational economic development in a country that has endured an historical economic collapse these past three years.

In July, we visited with a union of Lebanese farmers who started working in the late 1990s to develop a communal cold storage facility and hill lakes for water conservation. This initiative has made it possible for the farmers to not only cultivate their crops, but also their economic sustainability in a context where there is little to no government support for farmers. The cold storage facility allowed them to store crops like potatoes and apples for an extended selling season. It also equipped the farmers with coaching skills to help other farming communities in the Bekaa develop effective cooperatives. There are now 14 cooperatives covering 1,000 farming families (around 40,000 citizens). 

The new Guest House and the Accessible Living Home begins to take shape.

Compassion Protestant Society (CPS), the diaconal arm of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL), intends to work with this union to further multiply economic development in the agricultural communities of the Bekaa Valley. In the context of Lebanon’s economic and infrastructure collapse, the leadership and members of the union emphasized that their highest priority with CPS is installing solar panels to provide consistent electricity to their cold storage facility. Having their own power supply will allow them to expand the facility in order to store a greater variety of crops for later sale—extending the financial viability of their produce. It will cost around $120,000 to install the needed solar panels.

CPS also intends to work with this union to develop a walking trail through these reinvigorated agricultural areas. Several route options will wind their way through now verdant fields and foothills and end on the flanks of Lebanon’s highest mountain peak—between 15-28 miles of trail. Farming communities will provide food and shelter for the hikers—another income generating opportunity. Additionally, hikers will be invited to learn about the conservation practices being utilized by these communities to better steward precious water supplies and the land supported by this water.

It is difficult these days to make a living and support one’s family as a farmer. Most of those we spoke with also work other jobs to make ends meet. But union initiatives like these are catching the interest of the next generation of farmers, instilling a tangible sense of hope that not only can they continue their families’ three-hundred year and more farming tradition, but they can do so in a way that improves the land and provides for their families.

In June, we had the privilege of meeting the diverse and energetic board members of the Contact and Resource Center (CRC). In 1978, CRC began its work to challenge societal ignorance about physical disabilities, advocate for inclusion and accommodation policies at the national to local municipality level, and center women and men with physical disabilities in these societal conversations. CRC serves as a model in the Lebanese community when it comes to their board and project leadership being primarily people who have physical disabilities. Together, they have pressed for making schools, homes and churches accessible. They have introduced literacy programs, created leadership training camps, formed income generating businesses, offered recreational opportunities, developed driving lessons and transportation facilities, cultivated independent living situations, and created job opportunities—all for disabled people who had previously been isolated at home and seen as a source of shame to their families.

In 2022, CRC received a Presbyterian Women’s Thank Offering Grant to expand their existing Women’s Workshop. Formerly, they focused primarily on city women with physical challenges. But the current economic crisis in Lebanon highlighted the escalating need among rural women with physical challenges for self-employment. CRC’s workshop launched at the beginning of August with 24 women gathering in the municipality building of Bchaaleh—a beautiful northern mountain town. Each woman received a sewing machine and associated sewing tools. They will meet three times a week for the next month to learn how to make and repair clothing—a growing need in an economy where people can no longer afford to throw away torn items and simply buy something new. Additionally, they will learn the art of quilting. They will be supported in learning basic business skills to strengthen their ability to benefit economically from their new profession.

But there is more than economic empowerment happening through the workshop. The air vibrated with energy and joy as these women came together in a supportive environment. They blossomed under their teacher’s positive instruction and guidance and lingered long after the class ended for the day.

This workshop is part of a larger vision CRC is developing. A few miles away, they are developing a Guest House for “Tourists with a Mission” and Accessible Living Home for senior adults with physical disabilities. The Guest House will also have a craft shop where women from the above-described workshop will be able to sell what they create. Home canned goods, fresh produce, and other crafts will also be for sale. Guests from Lebanon and around the world will be invited to stay here, with proceeds from their fees going towards giving a dignified end-of-life living situation to those adults with physical disabilities who don’t have family support.

Practical transformations that make a long-term difference in Lebanon’s social and economic fabric—this is the commitment of these two PC(USA) partners. Please contact me (Elmarie) if you feel compelled to be a financial partner in either of these projects: the solar panels benefitting a large farming community OR the Guest House/Accessible Living Home that will benefit adults with physical disabilities—especially partnering to complete the kitchen and rooms for the workers, guests and residents. I’d be delighted to share further details with you.

Scott and I remain so very grateful for your commitment to our work and the work of our partners—especially at a time when the situation remains so tenuous for many. May God’s daily sustaining graces continue to fill you and equip you for your continuing ministries as well.

Together as partners in God’s service,

Elmarie and Scott Parker

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