The British Lebanese Association | Voices of Change
Updated: Jul 19, 2020
Here at What Can We Do? we strive to promote a better and fairer world through civic engagement, and that is why we launched the Voices of Change guest blog series.
We want to amplify the voices of a variety of different charities, community groups and individuals from home and abroad. While highlighting how COVID-19 has impacted them, how kindness plays a role in what they do, how people can get involved to support them and what the ideal future looks like.
Our special guest today is Sir David Richmond, discussing The British Lebanese Association and their COVID-19: Stand Together Lebanon appeal.
Tell us about yourself - Where do you work and what is your role?
I’m the Chair of the British Lebanese Association (BLA) and our role is to strengthen ties of friendship and cooperation between the UK and Lebanon. It's a fascinating country with a troubled past which has nevertheless offered sanctuary to 1.5 million Syrian refugees. If the UK had been proportionately welcoming, we would have over 16 million refugees living amongst us.
For many years the BLA has supported charities in Lebanon and run a scholarship programme which helps Lebanese students, who would otherwise be unable to afford to do so, to come to the UK to study for a Master’s degree. We ask only that they return to Lebanon to make good use of their new skills to support the development of their country.
How has COVID-19 affected the work that the BLA does?
The BLA can only award a few scholarships each year but hundreds of Lebanese come to study at British universities. They now face an appalling dilemma. Even before COVID-19, Lebanon was suffering the worst economic crisis since the civil war in the 1970/80s. For several months, the Central Bank has stopped all overseas transfers of money, leaving many of these students with nothing to live on. At the same time COVID-19 has cut off air-links so that they cannot return home. Many are unable to pay their rent or even buy food.
What activities has the BLA been undertaking since the start of COVID-19? What role does kindness play in your work?
With the Lebanese Embassy and LIFE (Lebanese International Financial Executives), the BLA launched the Stand Together Lebanon appeal to raise funds to provide basic grants to those Lebanese students who now find themselves in grim financial straits.
So far, we have raised £145,000 and already distributed £99,000. It is not the first time I have seen the extraordinary kindness and generosity of the Lebanese community and their supporters in the UK, but their readiness to give so unstintingly to help these young people is an example to us all.
How can people help or get involved with what the BLA is doing during the pandemic?
What does the ideal future look like? What positives would you/The BLA like to see come out of this crisis?
The COVID-19 crisis has sadly encouraged a tendency to turn inwards, to think of ourselves and our own needs.
But the UK has a proud international tradition, playing a constructive role in the world, supporting international organisations, promoting international cooperation and funding one of the world’s largest aid programmes, while welcoming hundreds of thousands who choose to come to our shores to study or to work.
I hope in the longer term COVID -19 will remind us of our shared humanity, of our mutual vulnerability, and of the value of more not less international cooperation.
Sir David Richmond Chair, The British Lebanese Association
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