How do we transform societies? How do you create more inclusiveness across all levels of society? How can you empower the underprivileged to change their lives? How do you rebuild a country from the ground up, after a horrific blast? How do you create a culture of sustained wellbeing? As these questions posed themselves, one after the other, the logical answer was to create the Alphabetical Order of Lebanon.
Michael Chidiac, chair of the board of trustees of Alphabetical Order, along with a growing team of dedicated professionals and volunteers, have committed to devise solutions to respond to these questions ever since December 2019. After the Beirut blast on August 4, 2020, the Alphabetical Order had focused on relief efforts to rebuild the damaged parts of the city. However, their overarching mission extends beyond immediate relief efforts, and encompasses bringing about social change in Lebanon, through education.
The team believes that with education, the youth will become empowered with increased free will and be better able to improve their own, as well as their families, social and economic wellbeing. Thus, the focus of the organization and its team, is to repair school and community facilities, fund and manage education development projects and provide school tuition fee subsidies to children from lower-income families across Lebanon.
Chidiac shares his thoughts in this Q&A, on the achievements of Alphabetical Order, and what the Lebanese Diaspora can do to help.
Q: Can you take us on the journey of how Alphabetical Order came to be?
MC: Our real efforts as an organization only recently began. There were many horror stories that were emerging from Lebanon, with parents unable to feed their families and afford the cost of education for their children. Fathers were even taking their own lives, when faced with this reality. The situation rapidly deteriorated between 2019 and 2020. So a group of likeminded individuals, experts and trustees came together, and set up the Alphabetical Order in December 2019, in the UK.
Q: The Beirut blast had a big impact on everyone, and it was the NGOs that lead the relief efforts. What was Alphabetical Order’s experience, as a charitable organization?
MC: The impetus really emerged post blast. Our first instinct was to rebuild, and that we did. We found that everyone, every organization and person was busy rebuilding the country – and whilst the built environment is not our focus as an NGO, we knew something needed to be done. So we outlined and began implementing 4 or 5 mini projects of changing windows and repairing homes. However, we wanted to combine relief efforts with education. As such, getting involved with works on the College Sacre Coeur school campus, which is merely meters away from the blast site, was our first large project. We undertook the rebuilding of the school theatre facilities. We did not just provide funds, but we were active in running the program and had our project management team on the ground.
Q: So why is education your solution to alleviate poverty in Lebanon?
MC: For poverty to stop defining people that have been trapped in this unfortunate economic segment, a long-term plan is required. We are committed to invest in people’s futures, and pull them out of poverty – through education.
Education is the ultimate way out of crisis situations, as it provides self-sufficiency to people. It helps improves their lives and environment. It gives them a solution to sustain themselves. Through Alphabetical Order’s programs, we help students finance their tuition. By subsidizing school fees we alleviate the financial burden on lower-income families struggling to educate their children.
Q: How do you choose the children that will receive tuition funding?
MC: Our aid is means tested and granted to children of families facing financial hardship. Subsidized tuition is only granted further to interviews with the families and children that make it to our shortlist. We also double check information with the schools and student welfare staff. We then settle the fees to the schools directly, as a means to ensure children are receiving the education they deserve. Our education committee, manages the entire process. It comprises experts from the education and social welfare sectors.
Q: What are the most pressing needs in Lebanon, when it comes to education?
MC: Families are in dire need of help to finance their children’s education. However, schools need urgent support as well. And so, grant money is firstly channeled to cover tuition fees, but we also raise funds to help schools with teacher training programs, or to enhance and rebuild educational facilities.
Q: What are your upcoming plans at Alphabetical Order?
MC: We are now geared towards expanding our efforts and ensuring that more and more students are given the gift of education – not just for one year, but until they graduate. This requires a sustainable and growing inflow of funds that can only be achieved through generous donations. As such, we are working with corporations, organizations and individuals that believe in our cause.
With 200 students currently enrolled in schools and receiving funding, thanks to the generous donations that Alphabetical Order has received, Chidiac believes the organization’s biggest achievement to date, is the extraordinary team of people that have joined them in their efforts. Without which, none of this would have been possible.
Donate or volunteer to support the cause, here.