Once upon a time, in the final phase of the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), there was a congregation of nuns - Ordre des Religieuses Libanaises Maronites - who dreamed of building a nursing home for the elderly. A home where both Christians and Muslims were welcome. Against all odds, in 1999, the home in the small Mount Lebanon village of Hboub opened its doors. Almost 25 years later, it is a daily struggle to keep the doors open and provide help to those in need.
By Arthur Blok
Lebanon, in January 1990, then army General Michel Aoun had just launched an offensive against the Lebanese Forces (LF), led by Samir Geagea, in the Christian areas that were under his control. The two-week battle is seen as the endgame in the war. It brought unprecedented destruction and casualties. Over 500 were killed, 2,000 wounded, and families were ripped apart.
The confrontation ended with the Syrian army invading the Christian regions and the exile of Aoun to France. Events that marked the end of a bloody civil war. The first missiles of this war's endgame fell at the site where the Maronite Sisters had just started the construction of her elderly home named Notre Dame de la Délivrance
The Lebanese Civil War was a painful chapter in the modern-day history of the country. It was a complicated conflict between Sunnis and Shias, Christians and Muslims, with the involvement of Syria, Israel, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) exacerbating existing issues.
In 15 years of war, over 150.000 people were killed, tens of thousands wounded, and hundreds of thousands displaced. The land of the site where Notre Dame de la Délivrance was erected was hit hard by rockets and missiles in the battle between Geagea and Aoun.
The sisters were in touch with both sides, urging them to leave the construction site alone. “While they were launching bombs and destroying, we were trying to build a shelter for the elderly,” one of the nuns, who chose to stay anonymous, said. “Seeking publicity and honor for what we did is not something like to do.”
In the years before, the sisters saved roughly 75.000 U$, mainly via church donations. The area in the mountains above Jbeil (Byblos) was called the area of the snails. The church was initially against the idea of the monastery. In a meeting with the late Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, he said: “Why do you want to build a new monastery? We have plenty.”
But the sisters were determined to build one specifically for the elderly. They kept spreading the word about their plans to raise more funds: “Once they saw the project was a serious one, they stopped opposing and embraced it.”
Every Saturday, the determined sisters used to pay the workers. They prayed daily to the Virgin Mary and asked for help and support. Miraculously, they managed to get just enough donations to keep the construction going.
“The Lebanese Forces and other parties from the area greatly helped us. The LF often brought us concrete from Chekka; even the Lebanese Ministry of Health occasionally donated money. Some parts are as a loan, some as a donation. Everybody wanted us to succeed.”
Ultimately, it took ten years before the building opened in 1999. The home currently houses 250 elderly patients. To take proper care, at least 50 caretakers are needed; due to financial problems, there is only a permanent staff, 22 of which 12 are nuns. The ten paid caretakers dedicate their day and night to and work on a minimum monthly salary of less than 200 dollars.
Lebanon has been experiencing hyperinflation since 2020, significantly eroding consumer purchasing power and sending many households into poverty. The Lebanese pound fell from 1500 a U$ Dollar to around 89.500 in less than three years.
Most people in the home have serious diseases like Alzheimer’s’ or Parkinson's and need particular and intensive daily care. The collapsed Lebanese state barely provides care for its elderly citizens, and if you are from a family without money, there is nowhere to go. Not to mention the elderly without next of kin to help them.
“When we opened our doors in 1999, we used to get 13 U$ dollars per day from the state per patient. That was a bare minimum, but at least it helped us pay the basic expenses. Today, we get no more support from the government. What are our options? We cannot leave them to their fate either.”
The home is living on donations from generous individuals and patients' family members living in very challenging financial conditions. Mainly those working in the public sector or armed forces and other individuals.
People who can afford are asked to pay 300 U$ per month for a bed. That is barely even enough to pay for all the expenses: less than half of the 250 registered patients are able to pay this monthly fee.
Financing remains a daily challenge; the sister explained: “All in all, we have less than U$ 5000 per month to serve all these people. That is insufficient to turn on the generator - the Lebanese state provides less than 4 hours of electricity daily - and buy food for everyone.”
Some local enterprises are doing their best to help the Congregation. ME Green’s founder and CEO, Philippe el Khoury, is one of them. He visited the home one night and saw the elderly sitting in their rooms in candlelight. There was no money to put the lights on.
“People walked around with blankets wrapped around their bodies to beat the cold—a hazardous situation. We decided to install a network powered by solar panels and batteries for emergency lighting and oxygen machines to stay operational. At least now they can keep the lights on at night and operate on the bare minimum”, El Khoury said.
He added: “We now use a combination of solar and generators to charge the batteries we donated to get them through the night. We provided the bare minimum. They need at least 600 panels to serve the whole building and mega batteries to stop relying on their too expensive generators.”
A small thing that made a huge difference, the sister emphasized: “We are so happy with what they did for us. You know, the smallest things make a huge difference for us.
If you would like to support Notre Dame de la Délivrance elderly home, like L'Œuvre d'Orient, Montreal Cedres du Liban Lions Club, Beirut St. Nicolas - Lions Club, and ME Green, and some of their generous clients. Please use the donations link below the article; all donations will be sent to Congregate.
Even a small donation makes a huge difference!