Omar, a father, electrician, former soldier, and refugee [Newsletter 1 Lebanon]

Hello everyone,

How are you? This year, I am participating for the eighth time in a project focused on impact measurement or digitization alongside an exceptional NGO. At each of these opportunities, I have met inspiring entrepreneurs, activists, and changemakers, whether in the Brazilian favelas, the Ugandan jungle, the northern neighborhoods of Marseille, the slums in India, or the remote villages of Guatemala. These experiences are real bursts of optimism!

This year, I have just arrived in Lebanon as part of an organization called Codi Tech, based in Beirut. This association trains refugees and marginalized youth in computer coding! But why did I choose this destination?

One evening in February 2019, I came home late from work. Just before entering a sushi restaurant on the way, I met Omar. He didn’t ask me for money, but only for something to eat for dinner. After offering him to order with me, we ended up spending the whole evening together.

Originally from Mali, Omar is a father of two children who still live there. Before the Libyan revolution, he had a peaceful life with his family and worked as an electrician. When the Malian war broke out in 2012, he joined the government army and fought for his country for several years. After the coup, the president had to go into exile, and Omar’s situation worsened. His family was in danger. At any moment during the night, armed groups could invade his home and kill him and his family. He had to flee his country to find a better place to live with them. From Turkey to Greece on a small boat, through multiple attempts to cross the Italian border, it took him two years. He said it was one of the most difficult periods of his life. After a month and a half in France, he had no documents, sometimes had to sleep on the street, hadn’t seen his family for two and a half years, and didn’t have enough money to go back to Mali. He had almost nothing, and yet he didn’t complain once during dinner. We mostly laughed while discussing the differences between our two countries.

On my way home, I wondered: If I were in his place, what would I have done? Would I have also fled my country to find a better life for my family? I am convinced that talking to refugees could dispel many preconceived ideas on the subject.

Lebanon is the country that hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world, accounting for 25% of its total population. To form my own opinion, I decided to pack my backpack and go meet the locals there. Upon my arrival in Beirut, I was warmly welcomed by Adnan, a close friend of Codi Tech. During the journey from the airport to the hotel, he took the opportunity to give me a brief guided tour. Four things particularly struck me:

1) Churches and mosques are often built side by side. Adnan explained to me that religious diversity is part of their culture, with over 18 recognized religious communities by the state.

2) Many buildings do not have electricity at night. Due to a lack of investment in energy infrastructure and corruption, the government is unable to meet the demand. Many families who can afford it are forced to rent electric generators from illegal suppliers who charge three times the regular kilowatt-hour rate.

3) Inflation is very high, to the extent that one dollar is equivalent to 100,000 Lebanese pounds on the black market. In 2023, inflation reached 25.5% between January and February and 190% over the course of a year. To exchange money on the street, the hotel manager advised me to check the current exchange rate down to the hour.

4) People are very warm and welcoming. If you smile at someone on the street, you’re almost guaranteed to receive a smile in return!

I’m excited to embark on this new adventure! In the next newsletter, I’ll share more about the organization and the project.

Wishing you all a wonderful week, and see you soon,