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Marina Balgachian (A02): “Lebanese alumni are suffering”

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Marina Balgachian (A02), Head of ESSEC Alumni’s Lebanon Chapter, tells us how our fellow graduates are coping in Beyrouth – and urges us to make a donation in support of her country.

ESSEC Alumni: What is the situation in Beirut?

Marina Balgachian: The country’s economy was already struggling because of high debts and corruption that led to the breakdown of the banking system, hyperinflation, slowdown of the industry, and high poverty and hunger rate. It is also worth noting that Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees per capita in the world, estimated to 1.5 million, the vast majority originating from Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Sudan, which represents a heavy burden on our resources, electricity, water, food and medical supplies. 

International and local NGOs are left to their own devices and struggle to cover all the humanitarian needs. Prices for reconstruction material have increased tremendously due to unprecedented demand, leaving many residents with no other choice but to sleep without a roof nor any replacement for their broken windows, doors, ceilings, walls, furniture, and kitchen electronic devices. Also, the water supplies have broken down, which prevents many families from getting proper hygiene and protecting themselves from COVID-19. There are electricity shortcuts too, up to 20 hours a day. Many households have individual generators since the civil war but this doubles the costs for families and companies, as governmental electricity suppliers still charge their services on a normal basis. Meanwhile, authorities anticipate that prices for bread, oil, and medical supplies will be 4 times higher in 4 months. Before COVID-19, the Central Bank already estimated that 45% of the population was living or close to live under the poverty line; now estimations rise to 80%.

EA: How are the members of the local ESSEC community doing?

M. Balgachian: Lebanese alumni are suffering. Everyone was hit. As you may already know, we lost Krystel El Adm (E08) and Alexandra, the 3-years old daughter of Paul Naggear (E10), who told his devastating story on CNN. As for the other, while healing from physical injuries and trauma, they cannot retrieve the money they need due to the strict limitations of banks withdrawals. Meanwhile, the real value of their salaries or income has plummeted as the inflation rate is up to 80%. Most business owners were forced to shut down or to lay off employees. The only way to get proper funds for rebuilding is to transfer money from abroad. This is why it is so important that alumni all over the world make a donation through ESSEC Alumni’s Lebanon Chapter’s campaign.

Another concern is getting their children to school. Public schools in Lebanon have been heavily damaged, and even before the explosions they already had major issues. They do not have enough places for all pupils, they have not been paying their teachers for months, and often they are not up to international education standards. Most alumni have their children registered in private French schools – however they can’t pay the fees now, as they lost most of their revenue and they are not allowed to send money abroad. 

Alumni want to stay in Lebanon though, because Lebanon needs them now more than ever. 

EA: What about the Lebanese ESSEC diaspora in the world? Has it been impacted?

M. Balgachian: All Lebanese alumni that have immigrated either to MENA countries or to Europe for better job opportunities during the past years are directly impacted by the blast. Either their own parents, relatives or close friends were injured, died or had their homes completely or partially destroyed. Many came as quickly as they could to help their loved ones and participate in the global effort for reconstruction. Hundreds of volunteers have been cleaning the streets and homes from the debris, cooking and distributing food to displaced people, opening their own homes for shelters. 

However this rush of volunteers is causing a new COVID-19 outbreak. The number of cases has multiplied by ten since the explosion. We are now facing 550-600 cases and around 8-10 deaths per day. 

EA: What is ESSEC Alumni’s Lebanon Chapter doing to help? 

M. Balgachian: We first made sure to inform the ESSEC community about the on-going disaster and how it affects the lives of many alumni. Then we launched a fundraising campaign for two NGOs that are completely reliable and transparent, preserve human dignity, and embody ESSEC’s humanitarian values. Offre Joie is giving hope and love to traumatized families and children, reconstructing broken homes, supplying water, finding shelters and promoting responsible community values. Arc En Ciel is supplying first aid medical care and food, giving educational support aid, and saving historical landmarks from total destruction either in the aftermath of the explosions or from greedy real estate developers. Alumni in Lebanon wanted to contribute but the money transfer was denied by banks, so I’m urging alumni all around the world to please give here - all the more since ESSEC Alumni will match your donation! Also, spread the word and share the link to our donation campaign!

EA: It may be worth recalling that there are many Lebanese among ESSEC alumni…
M. Balgachian: Indeed. There are more than 700 Lebanese ESSEC graduates, which makes us one of the largest community in the ESSEC network. This is why ESSEC and ESSEC Alumni are so willing to help. 

The Lebanese have always been eager to study in France since they mostly grew up in French schools, learning French culture and French history. This is also a way for many of them to secure a way out should a new war break out. And the love is mutual, as Emmanuel Macron showed coming to our country twice since the explosions. 

Do you want to support ESSEC Alumni’s Lebanon Chapter’s campaign and show your solidarity with Lebanese alumni? Make a donation here!

Interview by Veary Ngy, International Community Manager at ESSEC Alumni, and Louis Armengaud Wurmser (E10), Content Manager at ESSEC Alumni 

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