The lively gaze peering from behind the black veil suggests that Sister Nada Abou Fadel is a woman of action, someone who is used to making decisions. The 55-year-old religious sister is the superior of the Daughters of Charity in Ashrafieh, a district of Beirut where her community runs the Saint Vincent de Paul School. She is the principal of the institution’s secondary school.
The Daughters of Charity have operated this vast private school since 1950. Encompassing pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12, some 1,100 boys and girls — 90% of who are Christians — receive their education here. Like so many other Catholic schools in Lebanon, the school struggles daily with financial difficulties due to the impoverishment of families who can no longer afford to pay school fees. “We need 350 million Lebanese pounds (roughly US$ 230,000) to run this school. The government, which has not paid us anything for five years, owes us more than 1 billion,” says Sister Nada. She remembers how in 2020 she “fortunately” received aid from the French government and l’Œuvre d’Orient, a group that aids Eastern Churches. There are also former students who now live abroad and sponsor children through Lebanese organizations.” These types of aid are indispensable and we count a lot on providence,” she says.
A listening center
The precariousness of so many Lebanese middle-class families has been further aggravated since last August’s deadly portside explosion, which destroyed thousands of shops and small businesses. The neighborhoods that were worst affected, including Ashrafieh, were mostly Christian. “Since last August, many of the students’ parents have been unemployed and some are still traumatized,” continues Sister Nada. She created a listening center at the school, which can also be accessed online. There is a psychologist, a speech therapist and a social worker to help families. This energetic Daughters of Charity nun has also organized video conferences for parents and teachers, so that everyone can express their fears. Since the explosion of the port, she says she “jumps at the slightest slamming of the door or roll of thunder,” even though she lived through the 15 years of civil war (1975-1990) in Ashrafieh, losing one of her brothers there. “I have never felt what I felt during that explosion,” she confesses. “It gave the impression of the end of the world, a fear that everything would be taken away, that everyone would die. More than fear, it was an existential terror,” she recalls painfully.
“Because of our politicians’ negligence and selfishness”
Sister Nada says that ever since the explosion, her people have been “plunged into despair”, even though they are known for their resilience after having overcome so many trials.”We find ourselves alone, abandoned by our politicians, while it is because of them, their negligence and selfishness, that half of Beirut has been destroyed,” she explains. She notes with sadness that a growing number of the students’ parents want to leave Lebanon. “Already about 20 families have left and several others have completed an emigration form to Canada or France,” she says sadly. Sister Nada sees only one way out of this “catastrophic situation” — the current corrupt political class must give up power and make way for a new generation of people capable of managing the country. “Due to cronyism, one is elected deputy from father to son. We must make a definitive break with that,” she insists. She says she even has to go to all the classrooms during the school’s elections of class delegates to explain to her students that it is a question of choosing the person who presents the best program. She underscores her point by handing out a copy of the programs put forth by the different candidates in France’s elections as a study guide. “This is because our ministers and elected officials in Lebanon have no program or work plan,” she explains.
A deep love for Lebanon
Sister Nada was born in a Maronite family and is one of nine children, all of whom are still in Lebanon. Her father worked for the Maronite archdiocese. She entered the novitiate of the Daughters of Charity at the age of 20. She did so in order “to love Christ in the poor.” And today, despite all the difficulties her country and her fellow Lebanese are going through, she wants to keep hope. “I believe in the young people we are educating. By developing their sense of citizenship, they will be able to change things,” Sister Nada says confidently. At the end of the term last December, she told her students they must love their country in the same way as spouses are called to love each other– “for all their lives” and “even if they become ill and poor.”
Source: Written by Claire Lesegretain of LaCroix International