The Strength in Empathy

In the middle of the diagnostics center stood an old couple holding hands. Hany’s right arm was shivering due to a major stroke he had earlier on this year and Sally, his wife of 73 years, calmly and lovingly caressed it. Their clothes were old but clean, and their eyes had a million stories to tell, one of which was newfound gratitude to CLES that pledged to cover all their food and hygienic needs for the foreseen future.

The couple smiled as they watched volunteers pack their needs from rice, olive oil, toothpaste, detergents and more.

There come days where faith in humanity is restored amidst all the multiple crisis Lebanon has faced. Like that day where CLES heard about a family with three kids who had been without food for three days. In one day, the family received parcels of food and hygiene that was enough to last them for two full months.

Little did CLES know that its mission will hold an additional objective in Lebanon. CLES (Lebanese center for special education)was founded by Mrs. Carmen Chahine Debbane in 1999. CLES provides free individualized assistance to children between the ages of 3-12 years old facing specific learning difficulties at school. Ever since its inception in 1999, CLES has opened eight centers in Lebanon and has helped thousands of kids who learn and think differently. More than 1650 children underwent a full treatment at the centers over the course of 3-4 years each. CLES’s centers are strategically located in all regions of Lebanon to serve the communities in Beirut, South, North and Bekaa regions.

“Children are at the core of what we think and do, and now we added everyone to the list” said Nadine, an active member of Care by CLES, an initiative that CLES launched in the aftermath of the worsening economic crisis that Lebanon has been facing since September 2019. The accumulating feeling of hopelessness has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the explosion of August 4th, 2020 at Beirut port.

At least 190 people died as a result of the blast. A mother lost her daughter and home on that day and was left with no food or drinking water. CLES handed out vouchers to the devastated mother and she paid it forward by buying food and necessities to her neighbors who were also rendered homeless. She handed them the parcels with the help of CLES volunteers and kept repeating with a tearful voice: “Remember my daughter’s name, mention her in your prayers. May God protect your loved ones.”

“We cannot remember the last time we had a good night sleep” Said Khaled , Care by CLES Project Manager. “How can someone sleep at times where people have no longer a roof over their heads and food in their pantries”.

CLES found the urgency in partaking in the humanitarian relief efforts after one of its students admitted to Zeina, a center’s therapist, that he and his family had been without food for many days. That’s when Care by CLES was launched and an appeal for donations was managed through the board of trustees. The donations received were fully deployed in the purchasing and packing of parcels. As CLES is self-funded, team members volunteered their time and helped in managing the process of the initiative’s logistics.

“We stand in awe of the support we are receiving from donors, they are helping thousands in families in need.” Said Khaled, “We are merely doing our job as Lebanese citizens to help our fellow Lebanese in need. After all, that’s what humanity means, and though humanity is suffering, but it’s not dead.”