“Drugs and Help for Lebanon”: An Interview with its Protagonists

On the 4th of August 2020, a terrible explosion struck the port of Beirut, causing more than 200 deaths, over 7.000 injuries and leaving an estimated 300.000 people homeless. Today, almost one year after that tragedy, we’re here to tell you how the Rotaractors of Sicily offered their tangible help to the people in Lebanon, with a project, called “Drugs and help for Lebanon”, that brought together the efforts of Sicilians and Lebanese Rotaract members.

We’ve had a talk with the minds behind this wonderful and ambitious project; however, it would be unfair to merely refer to them as its creators: considering how much time, commitment and devotion they put into it, they actually had a key role into making it happen. These people are: Jean-Marc Adaimi from Lebanon and Massimo Casamichele, Federica Ferrara, Beatrice Raffagnino and Cesare Scalia from Italy. You’ll find more about them at the end of this article.

AS: Hello Massimo, it’s so nice to meet you. Can you tell us more about the inception of “Drugs and help for Lebanon”? What were the hardships you all had to face while carrying it on?

MC: This project was born when me and my Treasurer first watched the video of the explosion. We were utterly shocked and we asked ourselves if we could do something to help the people in Beirut. After learning that the silos in the port, which were completely destroyed after what happened,  stored about 85% of the grain reserves of Lebanon, we thought, at first, to start a District project for collecting grain, which would be later sent to Beirut. However, much happened during the first steps of our project. Our initial endeavours to collect grain were greatly hindered by the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic; this led to a “drug-craze” of the Lebanese people, which left the pharmacies in Lebanon severely short of supplies. Furthermore, the Lebanese Government fell, causing a growing inflation in Lebanon. So, we decided to shift our focus on collecting drugs. We were helped by pharmacies, municipal authorities and other associations; thus, by the end of December, we were able to amass a large amount of drugs and we were ready to ship them to Beirut. However, we had to face yet another problem: most of the airlines operating between Italy and Lebanon either went bankrupt or chose to not fly towards Lebanon anymore. We thought about shipping them by sea, but then our supplies would have been blocked at the port for months for bureaucratic controls, and this would have led to the expiring of our drugs. In the end we managed to strike a deal with Turkish Airlines and our supplies arrived in Lebanon in April. Thanks to the invaluable help of Jean-Marc, with which we were in contact since the start of this project, we managed to avoid any delay in the shipment and the redistribution of the drugs.

AS: Impressive! Now, Jean-Marc, we heard the story from the side of Sicily, can you tell us your version from the Lebanese side? What difficulties did you face during this project?

JA: Before starting, I want to highlight the fact that, this initiative, saw an amazing cooperation between Rotaryans and Rotaractors. Since I’ve only recently joined Rotary, I think it was really inspiring. As we all closely worked together, we were able to overcome every challenge that awaited us, such as taking care of the shipment paperwork; it was kind of tough, there was a lot of bureaucracy involved but it was fantastic that we managed to prevent any holdup at the airport. It was even harder to organise the redistribution of the drugs: the ones we received from Sicily were not avalaible in Lebanon since months and so we needed to properly and carefully assess which area, which medical facility and which age group of the population needed our help the most. We chose to prioritize certain people, like infants and elderlies, certain areas, like the ones that were most affected by the blast and certain hospitals, like the ones whose supplies were running low. I believe that, with the good outcome of this project, we can start looking again at the future with a positive mindset, with hope, but if I want to be realistic, I have to say that there’s still a lot of work to be done. The Covid situation isn’t helping and we’ll probably keep needing all the help we can get.

AS: I understand. After all, this project was very noble – we have to hope that more people are motivated by it to keep helping Lebanon. Now, a question for Cesare: can you tell us how the Rotaract Mediterranean MDIO played its part in this project?

CS: The Rotaract Mediterranean played a crucial role in helping us Sicilian Rotaractors finding a trustworthy Lebanese referent in the person of Jean-Marc. From the moment we started our project, we knew that we needed a very reliable man or woman that would help us bringing to a successful conclusion our initiative. “Drugs and help for Lebanon” had a great scope and demanded such a person. And so, at first, I contacted Riccardo Loizzo, the Marketing Coordinator for the Mediterranean, who, in turn, directed us towards Jad Salame, the Mediterranean Vice President, who’s also from Lebanon. Then, Jad gave us the contacts of Jean-Marc, who has proven himself to be an immensely valuable partner. To put it simply, we can say that, as an MDIO, the Rotaract Mediterranean fulfilled its role of connecting geographically distant Rotaract members, not only to foster cultural exchange and to develop international relationships, but also to actually work together on international service projects.

AS: Thank you, Cesare. Now, moving back to Italy, I have a question for Federica: I’ve been told that you’ve been very helpful in kick-starting the project, can you tell us a bit more about it?

FF: Of course. I’ve been mostly involved in the project during its embryonic stage. I was tasked with setting up the communications between the founding Clubs of this initiative (Palermo Ovest Rotaract Club, Palermo Est Rotaract Club, Palermo Ovest Rotary Club and Beirut Cedars Rotary Club) and the others Clubs of the 2110 Rotaract District. We needed to appropriately inform our District about this initiative and, more importantly, to properly engage its Clubs; thus, we reached out to them through e-mails, instant messaging apps and social networks. While doing that, we were also having videocalls with our colleagues in Lebanon, during which we had brainstorming sessions, all together, where we were trying to figure out the best way to make “Drugs and help for Lebanon” into reality. However, as this project started to grow and develop itself, I had to unfortunately draw back a bit due to external reasons, but, luckily, this didn’t affect it negatively.

AS: Indeed, “Drugs and help for Lebanon” did achieve its ‘happy ending’, after all. Now, one last question, two, actually, this time for Beatrice. Can you tell our readers what was the impact of Covid-19 on your project? Can you also tell us what kind of experience has it been for you, participating on this initiative?

BR: Well, the Coronavirus was, basically, the main culprit behind many slowdowns that our project suffered, both big and small. We couldn’t start collecting the drugs right away and, even then, actually collecting them, as in physically picking them up where they were stored, had been made more complicated by the pandemic, by the lockdowns. And, after that, the shipment as well had.  been made more complex and slow by Covid-19. As for what has been my experience with this initiative… This project almost started quietly, but it surprised me how big it became. We knew, right from the start, that it wouldn’t be easy, from the moment Massimo proposed a cooperation between our Clubs (Palermo Ovest and Palermo Est Rotaract Clubs), but I didn’t hesitate, not even for a second, and I joined straight away. “Drugs and help for Lebanon” gave me the opportunity to be active, to apply our Rotaract principles, on an international context, and, seeing how people from two distant countries got to work together to meet a common goal, was really beautiful.

Jean-Marc Adaimi

Current Member of the Beirut Cedars Rotary Club, he held the position of Rotaract District Representative for the 2452 District (Armenia, Bahrain, Cyprus, Georgia, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan and United Arab Emirates). He’s an architect and he runs his very own company. He’s also 30 years old

Massimo Casamichele

Current President of the Palermo Ovest Rotaract Club, his first contacts with the Rotaract world date back to 2018. Before being the President of his Club, he also held the position of Prefect. He’s been studying Medicine at the University of Palermo and he’s running a startup company as well. He loves traveling and scuba diving. He’s also 24 years old.

Federica Ferrara

Current Secretary of the Palermo Nord Rotaract Club, she’s as well the Delegate for the ERIC and Med MDIOs on the International Commitee of the 2110 Rotaract District, which is formed by Sicily and Malta. She’s a medical doctor and she’s currently majoring in audiology and phoniatrics. She’s also 27 years old.

Beatrice Raffagnino

Current President of the Palermo Est Rotaract Club, she has a degree in Jurisprudence, achieved at the University of Palermo. She’s been a Rotaractor (or should it be Rotaractress?) since 2017 and she cooperates as well with five more associations, inlcuding UNICEF; even after graduating, she’s still helping the student association of her former University. She’s also 30 years old.

Cesare Scalia Current Country Representative for Italy at the ERIC, he joined the Catania Etnia Centenario Rotaract Club around 2015. He has a PhD in Astrophysics and he’s currently working as a data scientist. He loves playing the drums and scuba divi



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