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Escape from Lebanon

Fall 2006 Vol. V, No. 1

Focusing on Recovery

In the aftermath of the July war, AUB remains focused on concentrating its resources to help Lebanon rebuild and recover. MainGate retraces some of the key events during July and August that inspired the University’s outreach efforts and continue to guide the long term actions of the Reconstruction Task Force.

Thursday, July 13
I wake up to find this e-mail in my inbox: “the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) hit the Beirut airport this morning. You’d hardly notice up where we are in this lovely little village but the TV is full of awful news from the South and we are wondering how we’ll get out of Beirut.” How many of us first learned about the war from an e-mail or while sleepily browsing the morning newspapers over the internet while sipping our first cup of coffee in the morning?

On campus, AUB forms a Crisis Response Team consisting of academic deans and non-academic managers, which meets daily to assess challenges and make decisions.

Peter Heath, who was acting president when the war broke out, describes his focus for the first two weeks of the war: making “the transition from normality to crisis by closing down academic programs, making sure students and faculty were evacuated, making sure key personnel essential for running the University and especially the hospital were moved on campus, and making sure we were dealing effectively with issues like fuel, refugee help, and other issues that came up.”

While Heath was focused on transitioning AUB to the new reality, others affiliated with the University moved quickly to care for the growing number of people who were displaced during the war. Working closely with a number of other NGOs, AUB provided a full range of services throughout the war. Volunteers and doctors started making site visits to some of the makeshift centers around Beirut where many displaced people sought refuge on July 17, only days after the war began.

Sunday, July 16

AUB suspends summer classes.

Tuesday, July 18
Groups of international students at AUB are evacuated. In the weeks that follow, hundreds of AUB students, faculty members, and some senior administrators will leave Lebanon.

Wednesday, July 19

Acting President Heath urges everyone to make all possible efforts to conserve energy and warns, “if the situation does not improve, energy rationing will go into effect.’’

That same day, he sends an e-mail to AUB faculty members inviting those interested to attend a meeting in West Hall at 2 pm “to discuss possibilities for organizing faculty, and then perhaps later, students in efforts to help refugees.”

Thursday, July 20
Ghassan Hamadeh, chair of the Department of Family Medicine, sends the first of a series of e-mails that over the weeks that follow will update the AUB community on the University’s relief efforts, which are being coordinated by the Health and Medical Relief Group. The group concentrates its activities in four areas: outreach health and medical relief, outpatient and inpatient care, emergency care, and sorting and distributing medical supplies.

Throughout the war, members of the AUB family pooled their knowledge, resources, and expertise to offer a wide range of services for the displaced population. Medical care was provided both at the AUB Medical Center (AUBMC) and at outreach sites around Beirut. AUBMC treated more than 900 casualties and displaced people. Although most patients were able to return home after treatment, 150 were hospitalized. Almost half of those hospitalized required surgery because of damage to their internal organs from blasts or shrapnel.

AUB also distributed almost six tons of medical supplies and “hygiene kits” to more than 7,000 displaced people who were living at schools around the University. There were two types of kits: for families and for centers. Family kits included a plastic jug, loofas (sponges), a bucket, a basin, a mop, a plastic beaker, a broom, 12 laundry pegs, a piece of rope, 5 towels, 2 dish sponges, 5 toothbrushes, and 2 combs. Families also received the following items every two weeks: 2 bars of soap, tissue paper, 8 rolls of toilet paper, cleaning liquid, detergent, bleach, garbage bags, sanitary products for women, toothpaste, and shampoo.

The center kits included brooms, dustpans, water sweepers, mops, large garbage bins, toilet brushes, liquid soap dispensers, and fire extinguishers. In addition, AUB provided the following items on a monthly basis: garbage bags, detergent, cleaning liquid, toilet disinfectant, and liquid soap. The goal was to ensure that the centers were clean and hygienic and that families had the supplies they needed to try to stay healthy under very difficult circumstances. The Lebanese Red Cross Youth Department at AUB was active in the distribution of the hygiene kits—and in organizing entertainment programs for children.

Monday, July 24

A number of senior AUB administrators are evacuated from Beirut.

Tuesday, July 25
In response to Trustee Emeritus and former Prime Minister Salim Hoss’s call, some AUB employees launch a campaign to clean the streets of Beirut. Those interested in participating in the clean-up campaign were asked to report to the Main Gate on Bliss Street at 3:00 pm on Wednesday July 26.

Wednesday, July 26
About 30 AUB professors, staff, and students and their friends and neighbors show up to collect some of the trash that had been accumulating since garbage collectors fled the country when the war began.

While AUB employees were cleaning up the neighborhood, President Waterbury was in Washington, DC, meeting people on Capitol Hill and at the State Department urging support for efforts to persuade the Israelis to allow fuel deliveries through their sea blockade. Lebanon’s power plants depend on imported fuel. Without this fuel, there would be no electricity: the hospitals (including AUB’s hospital) would lose their life-support systems and the cities would be unable to pump water.

President Waterbury also worked to raise awareness in the media, appearing on the Larry King Live Show and writing articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Washington Post.

Friday, July 28
The Board of Trustees, several Trustees Emeriti, and four members of the International Advisory Committee sign a full-page statement in The New York Times asking for support for AUB’s “efforts to secure medical supplies and staff mobile clinics by making a tax-deductible charitable contribution to the AUB Medical Emergency Fund.” The statement goes on to say that the trustees “fervently hope that the current hostilities end as quickly as possible.”

More than a thousand donors—including many who had never made gifts to AUB before—made donations to the AUB Medical Emergency Fund totaling more than $1 million.

Monday, July 31
Ghassan Hadameh sends an e-mail to the AUB community reporting on the work of the Health and Medical Relief Group. He notes, “we have registered 194 volunteers to date and have enlisted around 60 of them. Others will be called on to help when supplies and aid arrive in the next 10 days. Relief efforts will probably continue for a few months and we will need to coordinate our efforts with local and international NGOs and modify our contributions to society accordingly.”

Faculty members at the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences also organized an effort to distribute fresh produce (tomatoes, carrots, apples, watermelons) to displaced people in the area. About five tons of fruits and vegetables were distributed during a one-month period.

The relief effort also included drama therapy. In a story “In Lebanon, a Professor Uses Theater to Help Traumatized Children,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education Sharif Abdunnur, lecturer in drama in the Fine Arts and Art History Department, explained that “about 30 percent of the kids that I’ve been working with in the shelters are severely traumatized. Some are so traumatized that they literally can’t speak. Others have trouble making eye contact with me or with the other children.” The goal was to reach out to these children and to encourage them to tell their stories and express their feelings by participating in drama or theater activities.(For more on Abdunnur’s activities, see “Creating Laughter Under the Bombs,” pp. 24-25.)

Tuesday, August 8
President Waterbury returns to campus. Although Waterbury was in the United States when the war broke out, he and the Board of Trustees were in regular—at times daily—contact with senior administrators in Lebanon throughout the war.

Wednesday, August 9
Acting President George Tomey is quoted in an article in The New York Times about the effect of the Israeli blockade on the country: “I have been here for 40 years and this is the worst it has ever been.”

Throughout the war, AUB benefited from the wisdom, experience, and advice of a number of people—many of whom had been at AUB during the 15-year civil war. No one’s wisdom or advice was more valued, however, than George Tomey's. Tomey, who had announced last spring that he was planning to retire on October 1, worked tirelessly with colleagues in Beirut and New York to keep the University running throughout the war. Tomey was appointed Deputy President on August 8, a position he will hold until “the University has returned to normal conditions.”(An additional interview with George Tomey appears in this issue.)

Friday, August 11
John Waterbury sends a message to the AUB community: “We don’t know what comes next. What we do know is that AUB is our anchor in the storm. Its legacy is in our hands, and that legacy is one of fortitude, patience, and resolve. Together we will write another great chapter in the university’s long history.”

Monday, August 14
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan calls for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah to begin at 5 am.

Thursday, August 17
Two commercial flights (MEA and Royal Jordanian) from Amman, Jordan land at Beirut Airport. That same day, AUB announces that the summer session, which had been suspended when the war broke out, will resume on August 28 and continue for three weeks.

Friday, August 18
The first fuel tanker is allowed through the Israeli sea blockade and unloads at the Zouq power plant.

Wednesday, August 23
The members of the Reconstruction Task Force, chaired by Ghassan Hamadeh, meet with President Waterbury to look into how AUB might contribute to the rebuilding of Lebanon in a number of areas including reconstruction and temporary housing, water supply in the medium term, continued medical support for displaced persons, trauma and distress treatment, coastal clean-up, and medical infrastructure and clinics.

Around 25 students of the AUB Red Cross Club ran special aid projects and entertainment programs for children in several refugee centers.

Monday, August 28
Summer classes resume with 90 percent of the 3,000 summer students in attendance. Administrators and faculty outside of Lebanon begin to return.

Although AUB has refocused its attention on educating students (the fall semester began on September 27th more or less on schedule), it will continue to participate in Lebanon’s rebuilding effort. As President Waterbury noted in a recent interview, this academic year will not be a “normal year.” It will instead be an “abnormal year that focuses on helping the country recover.”

On August 23 President Waterbury announced the formation of the AUB Reconstruction Task Force (RTF), involving AUB directly in “reliev[ing] the effects of the war” and plan[ning] new initiatives.”

The Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA) was quick to join the force. The Department of Architecture and Design launched its own reconstruction unit aimed at reconstruction efforts in Dahiya and in the South. Proposals included physical reconstruction of the southern suburbs and towns in the South as part of a broader community-based “social and economic revitalization” effort.

Consisting of architects, urban designers, planners, and civil and traffic engineers, the unit has worked closely with municipalities and other agencies already in place, focusing on Dahiya, Ghobeyri, Haret Hreik, Chiyah, and the destroyed fishing port of Ouzai. In conjunction with the Red Crescent and other NGOs, the group is planning relief to the towns of Qoleileh, Saddiqin, Aita, Bint Jbeil, and Khiyam. The unit proposes to work on temporary health dispensaries, housing, recycling of building material, restoration of historic buildings, reconstruction of urban cores and public spaces, and environment and landscape.

Individual faculty members have contributed their expertise in other areas as well. Professor George Arbid is offering a design studio on reconstruction this fall. He has also worked with others to design a proto-type emergency toilet for use in the South. Professors Harajli, Hamad, and Sadek are involved in damage assessment in the southern suburbs, and through the efforts of Professor Moukalled, FEA will make its laboratories and trained personnel available to the reconstruction efforts of the Order of Engineers.

Death of loved ones, displaced people and destruction of buildings are obvious and visible consequences of violence and war. Less visible are the psychosocial effects of war. The Department of Psychiatry at the AUBMC was quick to respond to the psychological needs of refugees. Department members worked with medical relief units, visiting refugees crammed into schools, public gardens, and other places. Dr. Hassan Al-Amin worked with AUB’s mobile clinic in schools and other refugee centers. Dr. Al-Amin also joined a committee formed by the Lebanese Psychiatric Society to deal with disaster psychiatry in Lebanon. Dr. Brigitte Khoury serves on a Ministry of Social Affairs committee dealing with psychosocial support during and after war; in coordination with WHO (World Health Organization) she is also offering training sessions for trainers working in mental health areas. Dr. Laila Farhood is coordinating plans to promote post-war mental health in Lebanon, and Drs. Al Amin, Farhood, and Khoury are working with a mental health sub-cluster organized by WHO.

The Department of Psychiatry has proposed to the AUB administration plans for ongoing psychological support for those traumatized by the recent violence in the country. Dr. Khoury was recently appointed to a key position in the Ministry of Public Health coordinating mental relief projects across the country.

Jean-Marie Cook
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