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From Despair to Hope: How Technology Was Used for Good in Lebanon

Published 01-11-22

Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.

Person on the phone while looking at a computer
A volunteer taking a suicide prevention call using Cisco’s phone and the fully fledged Cisco network.

From Despair to Hope: How Technology Was Used for Good in Lebanon

By Maha Akkari

Trigger Warning: This article mentions suicide. If you or a loved one has thoughts of suicide, please contact a suicide prevention hotline immediately.

Following the massive Beirut, Lebanon port explosion in 2020, it made my heart ache to see many people in my country traumatized and struggling. This was compounded by the fact that this happened during ongoing and devastating long-term socio-economic collapse that the people of Lebanon have been experiencing. As described by the World Bank, the economic and financial crisis in Lebanon could be among the top three most severe crises globally since the mid-nineteenth century.

The mental health battle in Lebanon is real. What I am going to share with you may be difficult to read: According to the most recent data from Embrace, one person in Lebanon dies by suicide every 2.1 days, and one person attempts suicide every six hours.

Like many, Karim Kattouf, my colleague from the Cisco Beirut office, sadly lost a friend to suicide. I recall him reaching out one night, feeling heartbroken about his loss yet very determined to start an initiative aimed to raise awareness around mental health. Suicide can affect anyone, at any time, and in any place and it is a serious global public health issue. However, there are many ways we can help to improve awareness around mental health and reduce the number of suicides. We were both very hopeful that, with Cisco’s support of our initiative, we could definitely make a difference.

Cisco has made it a priority to not only end the taboo against talking about mental health, but also encourage people to ask for help. By decreasing the stigma and broadening the resources Cisco offers to employees, we hope to encourage people to get the help they need and change the conversation about mental health across our industry.

Karim is pictured here with a rescue dog named Flash.
Many of us used our Time2Give to volunteer and help. Karim is pictured here with a rescue dog named Flash. Flash came with a rescue team from Chile who were using Cisco’s wifi during their rescue operation.

We had several meetings with Embrace in person and over Webex in order to understand the challenges they face and how we can assist them with their mission. The fundamental problem they were dealing with was the lack of network infrastructure that would allow them to handle the surge in calls to its suicide prevention lifeline.

Their biggest concern was the huge number of dropped calls and the growing number of people dying by suicide as a result of not being able to connect to an expert for assistance.

We collaborated with Cisco’s Product Grant team and our Cisco Partner Data Consult to move Embrace to a fully-fledged Cisco platform and end-to-end network (phones, data centers, servers, etc.).

Because Talking Saves Lives, we worked hard on positioning our technology to provide reliable access to Embrace’s suicide prevention hotline services. Giving bereaved individuals the platform to be heard and to get immediate emotional support they needed, we were able to support the organization’s mission of ensuring that no one dies by suicide in Lebanon.

This is not the first time Cisco supported Lebanon by putting its technology and resources in service of protecting the vulnerable in times of crisis. Last year, when the tragic Beirut explosion happened, Cisco Lebanon teamed up with IDM and NetHope to provide Wi-Fi across the entire impact zone. The Cisco network we set up was used to coordinate all call operations and kept the survivors, their families, and rescuers connected. It was used as a base for the relief efforts while volunteers were fixing homes or helping people with food and medicine. It also gave disaster relief workers the ability to communicate with each other as they were working on detecting heartbeats under the rubble.

Sharing about our collaborative efforts in Lebanon, I cannot find the words to describe how grateful we are to work on humanitarian initiatives and contribute to our community to help save lives. It makes me believe that anyone can be a superhero. Except instead of wearing a cape, we just use our technology.

View the video here.

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