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A Love Letter to Lebanon: Our 2021 Highlights Reel Previous item Seven Mental Health Care... Next item 8 Tips to Overcome...

A Love Letter to Lebanon: Our 2021 Highlights Reel

Needless to say, it’s been a rocky year following a number of increasingly rocky years for Lebanon. The country, and everyone in it, is hurting badly. The Wellness Project has spent a large portion of our 2021 trying to find a balance in our posts between holding space for the darkness we are going through collectively, and searching for the pockets of light. Today, as we move steadily into our final month of 2021, we’ve decided to review those pockets of light we shared this year, so we can sit together in the sunbeams that still found a way to break through.

1. Sawti Lebanon

Incubated by Impact Lebanon, Sawti (‘my voice’, also translating into ‘my vote’) was a virtual unknown early this year, with their official launch happening on March 11th. We wrote in anticipation of this just a few days prior, in our 7 Wonderful Things That Have Happened So Far in 2021 story. This independent and volunteer-led project is focused on knowledge-sharing and mobilizing the diaspora in the Lebanese voting process, and they’ve done a spectacular job all year helping people get informed and registered online. I have no metrics to actually evaluate their impact, but their instagram is more than 12,000 strong, and I am one person who signed up to vote because of them. If you haven’t heard of them yet, check out their instagram Sawti (@sawtivoice).

2. Bahara Surfboards to Ride the Waves

Picture Credit: Paul Abbas

In our June 16th story, Bahara: Made in Lebanon Surfboards, we had the pleasure of meeting Paul Abbas, the only surfboard shaper in Lebanon. Largely self-taught, Abbas began working for a board-making company on the Ivory coast 5 years ago, and launched into full-time solo board shaping in Lebanon last year. His brand, Bahara بحّارة , does both surfboards and stand-up paddle boards (SUP), crafted in his workshop located on an industrial street in Nahr Ibrahim. In his interview with The Wellness Project, it became clear to us that the crisis in the country has more people seeking an escape on the waves. To learn more about Paul Abbas, Bahara, the board-making process, and surfing in Lebanon, read more here and follow his instagram.

3. I Am Woman Hear Me Roar (x4)

Photo Credit: Nabil Ismail- Photography Talks https://www.facebook.com/Nabilismail99 Discovered in WILPF Article In Lebanon, the Revolution Is a Woman

In October, we centered the powerful labor being done by women in (and from) this country to pull us forward into better versions of ourselves. In particular, we focused on 4: Diana Moukalled, Céline Semaan-Vernon, Sara Al Yafi, and Sinine Nakhle. In case you missed it, here are the cliffnotes:

Diana offers us 3 decades of barrier-breaking journalism, human rights defense, and the co-founding of irreverently independent Daraj Media. She has covered wars across the region and uncovered complicated and taboo conversations around conflict, women, minority rights, and democracy.

Céline, Lebanese-Canadian and NYC-based, wears many hats, creates many wonders, and converges her talents in design, education, community mobilization, and innovation in co-founding The Slow Factory Foundation. This foundation is ‘an open education institute, an independent lab, and a regenerative design incubator’.

Sara is a powerhouse with the shining accolades of having a Harvard degree, surviving the role of political advisor in Lebanon, and somehow still being incredibly down-to-earth, funny, and courageous in her social media presence and other contributions. She’s also managing member of Yafi Capital.

Last but not least, Sinine, aka Beirut by Dyke, offers a powerful, tender and defiant comic world that delivers in spades for Lebanese queerness. Rich with political commentary, vulnerable storytelling, vivid imagery, and a sense of community, this is an artist and activist who cannot be ignored.

To learn more about each of them, check out our story, 4 Lebanese Women Speaking Truth to Power.

4. Micro Tourism through Ailoul Canoun

Picture Credit: Ailoul Canoun

The lovechild of three engineers, Ailoul Canoun was launched in 2018 with the desire to boost efficient housing and micro tourism in Lebanon. The company makes lightweight, safe, and durable housing units that can function individually or be connected to other units for a larger space. Entering the market at a time when sustainability, affordability, and reconnecting to nature are centerpoints, Ailoul Canoun essentially brings glamping to Lebanon! Instead of upscale tents, they offer individuals and entrepreneurs housing units that can be easily moved, and easily transformed into different experiences. Read our July 27th blog to discover more about how these units are built, and the deeper vision Ailoul Canoun has in mind for an integrated, eco-friendly micro-tourism experience in our beautiful country.

5. Being Transported by Hadeer

In September, in the thick of the fuel crisis, we focused on the newly launched bus transport service Hadeer. Developed by 4 university friends, Hadeer aims to modernize our public transport by making it safer, more accessible, reliable, and tech-integrated. You download the Hadeer app and tell it where you want to go. It responds by telling you where the bus stops are, and what time to be at them.

The buses are mini Pullmans in great condition with climate control, free Wifi, and social distancing. Routes are still limited but growing, tech glitches are getting ironed out, and despite our traffic conditions, buses are expected to arrive at their respective locations around every 20 mins. It’s sort of like an Uber model, but for buses! Find out more about Hadeer in this wonderful blog. Innovation from our young talent that creates sorely needed public service is worth noticing and supporting! Download their app, check out their instagram, and happy commuting!

6. I Am Woman Hear Me Moan! (Also x4)

Photo Credit: https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sex/what-happens-when-you-lose-your-virginity#overview

In the springtime, we thought it was a perfect moment to talk more about sex in Lebanon. In particular, we wanted to talk about how little people talked about sex in Lebanon- especially sexual health, and especially sexual health as it pertains to women. Because information is power, we really wanted to specifically salute 4 sexual education superstars that are making sure women have much more of it: Mauj, Dr. Sandrine Atallah, Mashrou Alef, and Marsa Sexual Health Center. Again, the cliffsnotes to wet your palate, then you can use our blog to dive in deeper.

Mauj • موج, was created by a group of Arab women who wanted to make a significant dent in the ‘misinformation, shame, and stigma surrounding the female body’. Their website and instagram are marvelous, and they’ve launched the first sex toy designed by and for Arab women. You can buy it here.

Dr. Sandrine Atallah takes a lot of heat from the patriarchy, so we’ve got to have her back (not that she needs us to). PsychoSexologist, Hypnotist, Sexual Medicine Consultant, Social Media Mobilizer Extraordinaire, Dr. Atallah works to promote and rehabilitate sexual health, and to prevent and treat sexual dysfunction.

Mashrou Alef (The A Project: Agency, Autonomy, Alternatives), “aims to create platforms that reaffirm agency and autonomy in sexuality and mental health, while advancing, through practice and theory, a political discourse around sexual, reproductive, and mental health and seeking alternatives to counteract medical patriarchy’s restrictive and reductive approaches towards all bodies, especially those of women and gender non-conforming people in Lebanon.” They have an incredible Sexuality Hotline, learning space, blog, podcast, and referral system.

Marsa Sexual Health Center is a non profit that broke unprecedented ground when it was founded in 2011, providing sexual and reproductive health services without judgement. This includes voluntary STI testing, treatment, and counselling, and educational sessions on sex, sexuality, safety, consent, and more.

7. Global Waste Recycling (GWR) Lebanon

Photo Credit: GWR

Toward the end of August, Alia Fawaz at The Wellness Project had the profound pleasure of speaking to the head of GWR, Rabih Zeineddine. This interview illustrated the significant efforts being made to transform waste management in Lebanon in the middle of a crushing social and economic crisis: “We are a social mission and we focus on three areas of concern,” he stresses, “We believe in our country and that we can rise again from the current crisis, creating employment for Lebanese and refugees, developing a strategy to combat Lebanon’s waste crisis.” With only 10 employees, 7 of whom are refugees, GWR charges a small fee for pick up of nylon, plastic, glass, carton and paper waste, in addition to metal waste and large batteries. It recycles 100% of it. How? You can read more right here, and if you want to send your waste to GWR for recycling, you can WhatsApp 71515515 for pick up services.

8. Choueiri Lavender Farms

Photo Credit: Ramzi Choueiri 

The story of Choueiri Lavender Farms is a special one, with the magic in the details. An industrial engineer who directed his skills to a lifelong passion for planting, Ramzi Choueiri bought some land in 2016 and started growing lavender as a side family business with his wife and children. Why lavender? His late father with a neurological illness wore lavender perfume, and the scent and its benefits had an impact on him. Using locally sourced Lebanese seeds, Ramzi dove deeper and deeper into understanding how to grow lavender varieties in the best way possible, following organic cultivation and spreading out across 13,000 acres. This was a labor of love, grown on weekends and holidays.

Products emerged from the plants in 2020: lavender bouquets, lavender honey, and collaborations with candle makers and herbalists, soap makers, skin care products, and more. Sales are spreading internationally to Japan, Dubai, Canada. Workshops, farm tours, and other community things have unfolded alongside the calming, pungent, purple rows. Read our blog for more info, and check out the farm instagram.
It’s the perfect time of year to shop Made in Lebanon!

9. Sarde After Dinner

Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/sardeafterdinner/

In our 5 Badass Podcasts to Lift You Up blog in May, we highlighted this podcast hosted by Médéa Azouri and Mouin Jaber, because their conversations felt so important to us in this time of civil destruction and creation. With frank, passionate, fluid interviews that cross the spectrum and challenge the listener, Azouri and Jaber feel intensely current. They draw you in, opening you up to difficult discussions around immigration, policing, sex, drugs, geopolitics, LGBTQ+ rights and experiences in Lebanon, and more.

“Sarde (noun), [Sa-r-de]: A colloquial term used in the Middle East to describe the act of letting go & kicking off a stream of consciousness and a rambling narrative.

Check them out here.

10. Save Our Strays

Photo Credit: Save Our Strays

Another incredible response by young innovators to the vast and varied impacts of this painful moment, Save Our Strays tends to the burgeoning strays resulting from the abandoned pets. With little or no capacities to survive on their own, and animal shelters short on funds and bursting at the seams, 22 year old Rayan Akil decided to come up with a different solution. She left her customer service job earlier in the year, did some research, started fundraising, and developed tube-shaped food and water containers for cats and smaller animals that could be secured to a pole or tree. Starting in Dahiye and spreading from there, Rayan, her partner Taha Saad, and other volunteers do regular rounds to refill the containers. To read more about the project, the positive community response, ways to contribute/donate, and next steps for Save Our Strays (such as larger tubes for dogs, a new animal shelter in Aley, and Spay stations to control the growing stray population) check out our full blog right here.

Well that’s all folks. We hope these Lebanese light bringers help to lift you up. We give them our thanks for unfurling themselves in harsh conditions. We’re lucky to have you all.