Record executive and talent manager Wassim "Sal" Slaiby is no stranger to philanthropy. The CEO of the record label XO and manager to stars like The Weeknd and French Montana helped build a school in Uganda, sits on Global Citizen’s advisory board, and supported relief efforts for victims of deadly wildfires in Los Angeles.
When Slaiby saw his native country of Lebanon in an economic crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, he knew he had to act.
Slaiby launched the “Relief for Lebanon in Lockdown” GoFundMe campaign in May and has raised over $100,000 for the World Food Programme (WFP) to date. After reading an article highlighting how many people in Lebanon are being pushed deeper into extreme poverty and hunger, he took swift action to set up a fundraiser right away.
“I am proud to have raised over $100,000 in less than 24 hours for Lebanon,” Slaiby told Global Citizen via email. “I hope this inspires others to speak up and push initiatives that mean something to them.”
Before the crisis, nearly half of Lebanon’s population already lived in poverty and worried about food access. Lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus caused unemployment to soar, and banks started limiting transactions, leaving people with even less money to buy food. Many people continued to struggle until Lebanon’s Parliament signed a $300 million aid package for low-income families and businesses on May 28.
Through his fundraiser, Slaiby, who was born during Lebanon’s Civil War, wanted to draw attention to the country’s humanitarian crisis, which he feels often goes overlooked.
“Most of the world does not pay attention to Lebanon, but I can't stand by and watch,” Slaiby wrote on the campaign’s GoFundMe page.
He couldn’t believe how many people in the country were going without food.
“I chose to donate funds to an organization to fight hunger specifically because Lebanon is a small nation of only [6.8] million people, and it has been reported that 75% of the country is hungry and without proper food supplies,” Slaiby said.
“It was unfathomable to me how high that number was.”
WFP started working in Lebanon during the 2006 Lebanon War and has primarily focused on assisting Syrian refugees in the country since 2011, Abeer Etefa, senior spokeswoman and regional communications officer at the organization, told Global Citizen.
“Lebanon has always been a country that's very self-sufficient,” Etefa said. “Now things have really taken a downturn with the economy, with the demonstrations, political unrest, tourists have started to flee.”
Soaring unemployment, layoffs, and salary cuts have left many families struggling to make ends meet, Etefa added.
WFP is working to scale up existing operations and food distribution programs in Lebanon and strengthen the global response to the crisis.
“People are stealing to feed their families and their children,” Etefa said. “You go to the supermarket, people are stealing, they're stealing baby food. There is an increase in food prices by over 110%.”
Bread prices have increased for the first time in eight years during COVID-19 and are up 33%.
WFP provides Lebanese families in need with e-cards to buy food in grocery stores allows them the flexibility to plan meals, buy fresh produce, and boost the local economy. The program is currently gearing up to provide 50,000 Lebanese people with food baskets and is partnering with the Lebanese government to create safety nets for vulnerable communities.
In the past, WFP has also worked with Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education to distribute food in schools.
The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have a long-term impact on food insecurity in countries around the world. Supply chains, humanitarian access, the global economy, and food supplies threaten to double the number of severely hungry people in 2020 and push 130 million people into severe hunger.
Raising awareness about the state of Lebanon and making donations are currently the best way to support the country, according to Etefa.
“We don't want to see another failing country in the Middle East,” she said.
Slaiby said people who have a large platform must help respond to the aftermath of COVID-19.
“It means nothing to have a name and success and not do anything humanitarian with that,” he said. “I believe we must all pay it forward to help this crisis presented by COVID.”
Slaiby is also calling on world leaders to lend further assistance to Lebanon.
“I would like to see more of the international community support Lebanon by speaking up first to raise much more awareness, and then a call to action to raise funds like the campaign I just did.”