Some Lebanese-Canadians living in Ottawa say they feel helpless as they watch loved ones in the Middle Eastern country struggle to make ends meet and afford basics like food and diapers.
An economic crisis has pushed many of Lebanon's citizens into dire situations, with the World Bank warning late last year that up to half the country could end up below the poverty line if the instability gets worse.
The crisis emerged long before the pandemic — although it has complicated things further — with government corruption blamed for the collapsing economy. Tens of thousands took part in anti-government demonstrations last October, both in Lebanon and here in Canada.
Ottawa residents with family and friends in Lebanon say many people who were once firmly in the middle class are now barely able to afford staples such as salt and sugar.
Economic situation 'horrible'
"It's very sad ... I don't think Lebanon has experienced a crisis like this since the civil war in [1975-1990]," said Ahmad Araji, president of the Lebanese Club of Ottawa.
"People who were never homeless are now on the streets begging for basic food like milk and bread. It's horrible. I don't think any words can do it justice."
Araji said his organization is doing its best to send money back home, where many are living off funds being sent by the country's diaspora.
"But that, for me, it's just a [short-term] solution," he said. "Because you're numbing the pain, and you're not actually removing the problem itself."
The club has also been creating care packages for Lebanese international students in Ottawa, Araji said, as many of them rely on money from their families since their student visas don't let them work full-time.
"They are not able to send them money for rent. They're not able to send them money for tuition. They're not able to send them money for their day-to-day spending," he said.
Other Lebanese-Canadians in Ottawa have been working to send money overseas so that volunteers in Lebanon can create food hampers.
The boxes — containing sugar, salt, lentils, chickpeas, rice, and beans — are designed to feed a family of five in Lebanon for several weeks.
"It's been very stressful for us to watch our people in Lebanon, and our family and friends, suffer like this," said Marlon Oneid, who still has friends and family in the country.
"They've changed all of their habits to be able to live on things that are not normal to live on. You can't eat beans the rest of your life. If you wanted to buy protein, you just couldn't afford it anymore. So it's been very tough on all of them."