Kooyrigs visited the Howard Karaghuesian Center Beirut to bring supplies like painkillers, ibuprofen and other medicine needed. Due to the hyperinflation people, even well-paid army officers cannot pay for medicine anymore. The clinic offers them medicine and healthcare for free. (photo Milene van Arendonk)

Kooyrigs Delivers Menstrual Products and Medication Amid Lebanon’s Recent Crisis

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By Araxie Cass

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BEIRUT — A little over one year ago, in the aftermath of the 2020 Beirut Explosion, Kooyrigs, an Armenian feminist NGO, sprang into action with an initiative to distribute period kits to victims of the blast. With team members from and connected to Lebanon, the Kooyrigs team was eager to help both the Armenian community and other communities in Lebanon. Later that year, Kooyrigs cemented its commitment to direct aid work when the Artsakh War of 2020 broke out, becoming one of the leading organizations distributing aid to the front lines.

Medical supplies at Joumana Haddad’s Freedoms Center. A lack of foreign currency has been making it hard to pay foreign medicine suppliers. Therefore, the country experiences a shortage of medicine. Some Lebanese healthcare companies have run out of medicines needed to treat cancer and heart disease. (photo Milene van Arendonk)

Around the one-year anniversary of the blast, Kooyrigs was once again working on aid for Lebanon. Over the past year, the situation has gone from bad to worse and aid is needed now more than ever. This year, Kooyrigs turned to our team members from Lebanon to understand what was most needed.

At the YMCA: Kooyrigs handed out women’s pads to several shelters who take care of abused women. Due to the hyperinflation, basic items like these pads have become increasingly expensive – too expensive to buy for many women. (photo Milene van Arendonk)

The situation in Lebanon remains dire. Driving anywhere in the country, one can see the effects of the recent fuel crisis in closed down gas stations, and days-long lines of cars waiting for fuel. As it has for many years, electricity remains sporadic, but with a lack of fuel, many are not able to power the diesel generators they usually use for power. Hyperinflation has drastically reduced salaries, and made many basic necessities like food unaffordable. The hyperinflation has also left the country without many medications, even basic ones like Ibuprofen and Panadol.

After learning about the situation and hearing reports from team member Maria Kjdrian, who traveled to her home in Anjar village over the summer, Kooyrigs decided to start another immediate aid campaign for Lebanon. The organization fundraised through their first birthday celebration, marking one year as an official NGO and 501(c)3, as well as through their social media platform. As in the aftermath of the first war period, products have once again been left off the list of basic necessities subsidized by the government, and thus have become unaffordable for many.

At the YMCA (photo Milene van Arendonk)

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Kooyrigs teamed up with Jeyetik and Joumana Haddad’s Freedoms Center, two local feminist organizations, to distribute pads and ibuprofen to some of the most vulnerable groups of women. Joumana Haddad’s Freedoms Center has been working to organize Lebanese youth and advocate for human rights, secularism, equality, and inclusion since 2019. Although their in-person activities have been interrupted by the current crisis, they worked to help connect Kooyrigs with other organizations, and donated their space for aid distribution.

The Trip

Two members of the team, I and Maria Kjdrian, traveled to Lebanon to assess the situation, and personally distribute our aid. We met with Maryam Skaf, the founder of Jeyetik, and with her help traveled to three shelters for victims of domestic violence. Skaf talked to us about her founding of Jeyetik in 2020, when the government decided to leave pads and other period products off the list of essential items that they subsidized after the explosion. This reflects a lack of consideration for women’s basic needs by a system run by men, and a disregard of the effects of period poverty. These can include infections due to poor period hygiene, which, in a country with a crisis of medication availability, can become even more serious. In response, Skaf launched Jeyetik as an initiative to make period products accessible to all.

Kooyrigs visited the Howard Karaghuesian Center Beirut to bring supplies like painkillers, ibuprofen and other medicine needed. Due to the hyperinflation people, even well-paid army officers cannot pay for medicine anymore. The clinic offers them medicine and healthcare for free. (photo Milene van Arendonk)

Kooyrigs distributed aid to three different shelters, which we chose specifically because of the shelter and support they provide to survivors in critical condition, and their policies of serving everyone without discrimination by ethnicity, religion, sect, or political party, which can be an issue in some organizations. Kooyrigs sourced pads and medications from Armenia, ordering from a family-owned pharmacy in Jrvezh in order to support the local economy. Due to the difficulty of bringing medications from Armenia to Lebanon, the organization focused on non-prescription shelf medications.

The first shelter we delivered to was the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Lebanon. Although this shelter began as a Christian organization, their board comprises members of multiple groups and religions, and they serve any women regardless of their background. This shelter is kept private, and serves women in the most critical condition of domestic violence, generally those who have been severely physically abused, and have run away from their partners. We spent very little time at the shelter itself to protect the safety and privacy of the beneficiaries, and the shelter’s staff distributed the period products and medication to their beneficiaries.

The second organization we visited was the Lebanese Women’s Democratic Gathering (RDFL). This organization combines political advocacy and direct aid. As part of their advocacy work, RDFL is currently working on a campaign to advocate for a law that would make the legal age of marriage 18 for all people in Lebanon, regardless of sect or religion. In addition, they operate three shelters in different areas of Lebanon for survivors of domestic violence. We distributed our period products to their main center in Beirut, and the organization workers distributed them to the three shelters.

Finally, we distributed aid to the Maryam and Marta shelter. This shelter is also kept private, as it serves victims in critical condition. The shelter hosts women and their children, as well as teenagers who escape home because of domestic abuse. Beneficiaries can stay at the shelter for a maximum of three years, during which time the organization works with women to help them develop goals such as obtaining a degree or starting a business, and gives them the skills and resources that they need in order to accomplish those goals. The shelter also serves as a community, with activities and tasks that encourage inhabitants to be active and empowered.

At the Howard Karaghuesian Center of Beirut (photo Milene van Arendonk)

In addition to menstrual products, Kooyrigs provided medications to the Karagheusian Association in Beirut, which provides healthcare for free or at extremely reduced prices to anyone in need. The center was started by an Armenian family who lost its son to the influenza pandemic of 1918, and now serves a number of communities in Lebanon. Like most other facilities in the country, the center is facing a shortage of medication. Many of the patients at the clinic are refugees from Palestine or Syria, whose situation has been made even more dire by the economic crisis in Lebanon.

Our deliveries to the Karagheusian center took us to Bourj Hammoud, the center of the Armenian community in Beirut. Due to its proximity to the port, the area was hit especially hard by the 2020 explosion. The Karagheusian center and many other local buildings were destroyed, and although some have been able to rebuild and continue business, the area is still feeling the effects of the explosion, on top of the other crises the country is facing.

As the situation in Lebanon continues to develop, Kooyrigs will continue to monitor it, and work on future sustainable phases of our aid campaign.

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