Feature: Family mutual aid funds sprout in Lebanon to help vulnerable members through crisis

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BEIRUT, May 10 (Xinhua) — When Zeinab Jouni fell ill, all hopes seemed lost because she couldn’t afford her surgery and medical treatment.

Luckily for the elderly woman from Lebanon’s southern city of Nabatieh, a mutual aid fund established by the Jouni family came to her help and paid the medical bill of 30 million Lebanese pounds (1,112 U.S. dollars).

Similar stories happened to Ajwad Maddah, a young man who lived in the southern town of Hasbaya and had been out of work for more than one year. He got a loan of 5 million pounds from the fund of the Maddah family to start a small business of selling fruits and vegetables, which would secure a monthly income to save him from poverty.

Lebanon is seeing family mutual aid funds sprouting in the south and east of the country to help vulnerable family members overcome the unprecedented financial crisis facing Lebanon, which has caused a surge in the rates of unemployment and poverty.

Munir Muhanna, head of the Muhanna fund which covers 200 family members, told Xinhua that such funds have proved effective by helping some of the family members establish productive projects and creating job opportunities for others.

They’ve also helped finance weddings and funerals, and given soft loans to the needy in place of exhausted banks, he added.

Muhanna said families usually agree on a committee consisting of a group of members entrusted with the task of managing the funds.

“These members get in touch with residents and expatriates, determine the amount of the monthly subscription, and then collect contributions and donations which are kept in a treasury,” he explained.

Muhanna noted that his family’s aid fund has pooled more than 100,000 dollars.

Jalal Hamdan, a man in his 50s, told Xinhua that his family fund was so far able to cover several funerals amid the increase in the cost of such occasions by more than tenfold in less than a year.

For his part, Jad Maddah said his family created a fund around a year and a half ago, with a monthly subscription of 200,000 pounds from each domestic household and around 3 million pounds from expats.

“The family now owns 400 chairs, 50 plastic tables and a refrigerator to store dead bodies before burial, an ambulance to transport patients, and musical instruments and sound equipment for wedding occasions,” said Maddah, adding the fund also finances recreational trips for the elderly and provides financial aid to widows, the poor, and the unemployed.

According to the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, the establishment of family financial funds does not require an official license because such funds do not aim for profit.

Families only need to apply to the Ministry of Interior for a license to establish a charity, it added.