Eliana lives in Lebanon and works in a paper factory in Zahle to support her family.
“I used to work arranging and moving rolls and boxes of paper. Even though my work was exhausting I was happy because of the things I was able to provide for my family through this job. However, my happiness did not last long. About two years ago, I began to have episodes of fainting and loss of balance, even at work. On one hand I was afraid for my health, and on the other hand of losing my job!
“My health problems became more intense, and my fears greater. I went to the hospital, where I was told I had multiple sclerosis. The news struck me and my family like lightning. What was going to happen? What consequences would this disease have for my life? How would my family cope?”
Back at work, Eliana was summoned to see the human resources officer. As she stepped into the office she thought she would be asked to resign.
“How fast my heart was beating, and how my joints were trembling when the officer, Mr. Nabhan, summoned me on the morning of a rainy day. But, instead of asking me to resign, I found him giving me the nicest two pieces of news ever to grace my heart, which made me feel greater confidence and determination towards the future.
“First, the company had decided not to fire me but to do the opposite, and to take care of my ongoing health situation. My job had been transferred from the paper manufacturing department to the office section, where work is easier and circumstances better.
“Second, some of the board members at the factory had previous knowledge of MS, and knew about the Society of Lebanese Friends of Patients with Multiple Sclerosis (ALSEP). They were sympathetic to its goals and involved in its activities. They gave me a brochure from ALSEP and advised me to get in touch with them.”
A second family
ALSEP were there to help Eliana deal with the new challenges on her way. Although the Lebanese government covered much of the cost of MS treatment at that time, not all treatments were included and many people with MS could not afford to meet the remaining cost.
“I can’t forget that ALSEP stood next to me and supported me financially, helping me to get grants from individuals and organisations to temporarily fund my treatment. A new phase in my life had opened up. The negatives hadn’t disappeared, but now I knew I didn’t have to face them alone.”
ALSEP, as well as other associations, successfully lobbied the government to reduce the contributions that people with MS make towards their treatment from 20% to 5%, which has made a huge difference to people with MS across Lebanon, including Eliana.
“For me, the most important thing is how ALSEP morally supports each person with MS, wherever they live in the country. It has brought us together from different Lebanese regions to meet, share love and friendship, and raise awareness of MS. ALSEP has become my second family.
“I’ve also started to benefit from ALSEP’s physical therapy program, which has allowed me to feel physically strong again. I even took part in a marathon this year.”
ALSEP and MSIF
ALSEP was established in Zahle in 1995 with the vision of walking hand in hand with people affected by multiple sclerosis toward a better quality of life. It relies on a small voluntary board to run its activities. These include physiotherapy, providing information about MS, and organising awareness-raising activities.
ALSEP is one of three organisations taking part in MSIF’s three-year capacity-building programme in the Arab region. Through mentoring, training, visits and partnership working, the programme is developing MS organisations’ capacity and building the skills of their volunteers, enabling them to better respond to the needs of people with MS. You can read more about this work here.