A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon

It was established in 1994 to manufacture fashion items, embroidery and linen, but today Machghal El Oum is dedicated to the production of protective suits to counter the coronavirus threat. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 May 2020

A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon

  • Women at a sewing workshop in Saida called Machghal El Oum are doing their bit to stop the spread of the virus
  • Around 20 women are producing 400 protective suits a day, each requiring 15 to 20 minutes to sew

BEIRUT: In the time of the coronavirus when most people were asked not to leave their houses and to work from home, some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum.

The workshop was established in 1994 to manufacture fashion items, embroidery and linen, but today Machghal El Oum is dedicated to the production of protective suits to counter the coronavirus threat.

The women who work there are doing a public service by helping the factory to cope with the surging demand for face masks in Lebanon.




Some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum. (Supplied)

“The idea was born with the spread of the coronavirus disease in Lebanon and the dire lack of supplies in the markets,” said Wafa Wehbe, manager of Machghal El Oum.

“We felt the need to help Lebanese society, especially after the closure of borders and airports and, consequently, the cessation of import of protective suits,” she said.

Research and many experiments have been conducted by Machghal El Oum in cooperation with engineers and specialists to discover the best type of fabric to prevents liquids and any kind of spray from reaching the wearer’s skin.

The fabric — such as titanium TNT, which blocks external elements — must also be available in the Lebanese market.

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That is how about 20 women started working at Machghal El Oum, producing 400 protective suits a day, each requiring 15 to 20 minutes to sew.

There is an increasing demand for the suits, according to Wehbe, who adds that Machghal El Oum is currently cooperating with the Lebanese Red Cross and the World Health Organization.

Ghassan Hanqir, the director of public relations at the Islamic Welfare Association (which established the workshop), said that hospitals, pharmacists, relief agencies and restaurants placed orders for hundreds of suits daily.

He said that the price of a suit was symbolic and not for profit, but enough to purchase the required materials and pay the workers’ salaries.

The women at the workshop are from the marginalized and economically disadvantaged sections of Lebanese society.




Some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum. (Supplied)

When the workshop was founded 25 years ago, an applicant’s socio-economic status was used as the main criterion for hiring, Wehbe said.

“We provide work for women in need, who are divorced, widowed or refugees. Each year, we offer them six-month sewing courses, at the end of which we provide them with sewing machines.

“The highly qualified women are offered jobs in our workshop.”

FASTFACT

20

Number of women who started working at Machghal El Oum, producing 400 protective suits per day.

These women, in spite of their difficult circumstances, or perhaps because of them, did not seek to opt out during the coronavirus crisis.

They decided to put in hard work to meet the increasing demand for protective suits and items such as plastic masks and shoes, according to Wehbe.

She said that the management of Machghal El Oum took the safety of the women employees very seriously.

We felt the need to help Lebanese society, especially after the closure of borders and airports and, consequently, the cessation of import of protective suits.

Wafa Wehbe, manager of Machghal El Oum

There are currently 20 women working at a time, rotating based on a two-hour shift.

“We do not know whether or not we will increase the number,” she said. “We are working in a daily state of emergency that may change at any time.”

Wehbe said that the workshop was continuously sterilized; masks and gloves are provided; and temperature checks are carried out when the women arrive at the premises for work.

The seating arrangement is set up so the women are able to maintain a safe social distance.




Some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum. (Supplied)

Dr. Kamel Kuzbar, the Saida Municipality member responsible for tackling the coronavirus situation, praised and encouraged the women working at Machghal El Oum.

He said that the initiative aimed to address the problem of the lack of protective gear in the country.

Kuzbar said that the municipality cooperated fully with the workshop and other active institutions in its endeavor to take precautions and reduce the impact of the pandemic.




Some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum. (Supplied)

As well as cooperating with Machghal El Oum, he said, Saida Municipality was working to provide guidance, instructions and sterilization to the community.

It was also imposing home quarantine and distributing sterilization materials, food and medicine in areas of need.

In making these protective suits, the women of Machghal El Oum are doing their part to serve their country and its people.

  • This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

Updated 12 August 2020

US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

  • Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast
  • The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years

WASHINGTON: About four years before the Beirut port explosion that killed dozens of people and injured thousands, a US government contractor expressed concern to a Lebanese port official about unsafe storage there of the volatile chemicals that fueled last week’s devastating blast, American officials said Tuesday.
There is no indication the contractor communicated his concerns to anyone in the US government.
His assessment was noted briefly in a four-page State Department cable first reported by The New York Times.
The cable, labeled sensitive but unclassified, dealt largely with the Lebanese responses to the blast and the origins and disposition of the ammonium nitrate, which ignited to create an enormous explosion. But it also noted that after the Aug. 4 explosion, a person who had advised the Lebanese navy under a US Army contract from 2013 to 2016 told the State Department that he had “conducted a port facility inspection on security measures during which he reported to port officials on the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate.”
Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast, officials said.
The contractor, who was not identified by name and is now a State Department employee based in Ukraine, was in Lebanon to provide instruction to members of the Lebanese navy. While there, he made a brief, impromptu inspection of physical security at the facility in 2015 or 2016 at the request of a port official, US officials said. The contractor was not identified.
The contractor, who has a background in port and maritime security, noted weaknesses in security camera coverage and other aspects of port management but was not assessing safety issues, according to the US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a planned public statement.
While inside the warehouse where ammonium nitrate was stored, the contractor saw problems such as poor ventilation and inadequate physical security, which he noted to the port official accompanying him, the officials said. It is unclear whether the port official reported this concern to his superiors.
The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years, apparently with the knowledge of top political and security officials. The catastrophic explosion one week ago Tuesday killed at least 171 peoples and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis.
The contractor was working for the US Army’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He provided instruction to members of the Lebanese armed forces in naval vessel traffic systems and small boat operations. His class was visiting the Beirut port as part of that instruction program when the port official asked him for the inspection, which US officials said lasted about 45 minutes.
The United States has a close security relationship with Lebanon. According to the State Department, the US government has provided Lebanon with more than $1.7 billion in security assistance since 2006. The assistance is designed to support the Lebanese armed forces’ ability to secure the country’s borders, counter internal threats, and defend national territory.
Last September a US Navy ship, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, visited Beirut. It was the first time in 36 years an American warship had made a port visit there, according to the US military at the time.