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Finding a way to stay

BUSINESS | Remote work and internships provide a financial lifeline to young Lebanese in economic crisis


Patil Boyamian walks in her Beirut neighborhood. Photo by George Mghames/Genesis

Finding a way to stay
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After Lebanon’s financial crisis hit four years ago, life got harder for Patil Boyamian, a 29-year-old accountant from eastern Beirut.

Boyamian left her home in the city’s hilly Ashrafieh area each morning before hopping on buses and taxis to get to her accounting job. When the company reduced her time to a few hours each week, she got a second job with a raise. But the devaluing lira—Lebanon’s currency—rendered the raise worthless. Boyamian started struggling to pay the rising transportation fares and even buy basic items from stores.

“I had to calculate every penny I was spending,” she recalled.

Others also felt the crunch, which sparked an exodus. Some 79,000 people left Lebanon in 2021—the highest number in five years, according to the Beirut-based Information International consultancy firm—and refugees fled to Europe by the thousands last year. But the hardships have prompted some organizations, including a Christian ministry, to step in with employment help. These groups’ initiatives are providing remote jobs and other creative work that allow young Lebanese to be productive without leaving their home country.

Lebanon’s economy began contracting after years of state corruption and financial mismanagement. The lira has lost more than 90 percent of its value, and around three-quarters of Lebanon’s more than 5 million people now live in poverty. A deadly explosion at the Beirut port in 2020 compounded the problems.

When economic protests first flooded Lebanon’s streets in 2019, they drew the attention of other Lebanese living abroad.

In San Francisco, Neal El-Jor Taouk helped to organize community town-hall meetings to brainstorm ways to send help back home. In March 2020, Taouk and a computer scientist co-founded Jobs for Lebanon and collaborated with other Lebanese living abroad to launch a digital recruiting platform connecting people in Lebanon with remote jobs in fields such as accounting, advertising, marketing, and design.

“Within the first week, we heard that the first person got hired and was able to sustain themselves,” she said. The platform has so far provided more than 2,000 interviews and job offers, she said.

As Lebanon’s crisis unfolded, Boyamian considered joining others to leave the country. An uncle invited her to the United States, but she didn’t want to leave her family and church fellowship behind.

Graduates from the Horizons International internship program now work for Horizons in the communications department.

Graduates from the Horizons International internship program now work for Horizons in the communications department. Horizons International

While she considered her choices, a church friend told her about Horizons International, a Christian missions and aid ministry active across Lebanon. Boyamian learned the ministry was looking for accountants to work remotely with a U.S. consulting group.

“My dream was to work from home and have clients, so this job was meeting all my expectations,” she said.

Boyamian is now among about 100 people who have gotten remote job offers through the ministry’s programs responding to Lebanon’s economic crisis.

Tamar Majoulian, a human resources coordinator with Horizons International, said the ministry first launched an internship program for young Lebanese late in 2020. Participants received training in graphic design, arts and worship, and web development. They received ­salaries working across the ministry’s different divisions. Others have used the training to get work elsewhere. Majoulian said interns from the worship team have served in 25 Lebanese partner churches. “Some of the churches here in Lebanon don’t have worship bands,” she noted.

Boyamian is now among about 100 people who have passed through the ministry’s programs responding to Lebanon’s economic crisis.

Abdulrahman Mesto was already looking into migration routes to leave Lebanon when he connected with Horizons. The 20-year-old had fled Syria and didn’t want to return there. But he struggled to make ends meet.

“I was putting my life in danger,” he recalled. “I wanted to provide for myself.”

Mesto started a Horizons internship in web development in October 2021. He later switched to the international team, where he improved his broken English and began working as a translator.

He now works with visiting mission teams. He describes himself as a sort of tour guide. “Right now, I’m not thinking so much about leaving,” he said.

Horizons partnered with a U.S.-based consultancy firm to hire remote workers like Boyamian. Majoulian said while Horizons is cutting back on paid internships, it is expanding the jobs program into fields like data entry and marketing.

Back at her Beirut home, Boyamian no longer has to catch a morning bus to work. She can pay her bills and has more time to run bank errands and serve on her church’s financial team. She says she’s started to enjoy her work.

The crisis still affects her schedule, though. Lebanon’s national electricity body barely provides power: Boyamian’s family home relies on a private company that supplies power using diesel generators, but even that is rationed.

“I make sure my work hours coincide with the generator,” she said.


Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.

@onize_ohiks

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