A year ago, a woman named Alem Dechasa committed suicide by hanging herself in her room at Der El-Salib mental hospital. Four days prior, she was kidnapped by her owner, her master, Ali Mahfouz. He took her by her hair and dragged her to the car. She resisted, so he asked a friend to help him and they both force her in, through the window. The scene was filmed and people were shocked. Anger was thrown at the men and women who stood by without doing anything, and words of disgust were directed at Ali Mahfouz, and rightly so.
But what people do not realize is that the system in which migrant workers find themselves stuck, the so-called Kafala System, is akin to modern-day slavery. Paraphrasing senior International Labor Organization member, Ms. Simel Esim, the system creates a total dependency on the ’employer’ for food, health, sleep and everything in-between. She is dependent on her owner for her legal status, becoming exempted from legal protection were she to refuse following orders.
A few days ago, seven NGOs in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Affairs launched the “Fi Chi Ghalat” (Something is Wrong) campaign. This action comes in addition to KAFA’s 24/7 helpline for all migrant workers victims of physical and sexual abuse (76090910), the Anti-Racism Movement’s campaign against racism in Lebanese beaches and the ‘Ethiopian Suicides‘ blog’s constant reporting of all cases of abuse. Things are changing.
Our story starts with Lili (Rahel Zegeye), a migrant domestic worker who came to Lebanon hoping to get a decent job and save up enough money to send to her family back home. Her friend, Mouna, is one of Lebanon’s many abused migrant women so they both decide to search for their agency and embassy, only to discover that the process isn’t as easy as it sounds.
It comes as no surprise that the play’s Mother is none other than Rahel Zegeye, Lebanon’s leading migrant rights activist. An extraordinary woman who is dedicating her life to raising awareness regarding Migrant Rights in Lebanon, Zegeye is able to humanize a situation often dealt with by numbers and statistics. After the film Beirut, which was screened at the American University of Beirut (AUB), Zegeye comes back with the play “Shouting without a listener” featuring Lily and Mouna as the main characters.
Directed by Ibrahim Diab, the play aims at continuing the effort of raising awareness. “Many came to Rahel after the first show not believing that such things actually happen”, Diab told me. “Rahel had to assure them that what they saw wasn’t far from reality”.
Ibrahim disagrees with me that things are changing. “I think that the situation has not really changed. In fact, it’s probably worse now. It is hope-bringing though to see attempts to change, like those made by Rahel, getting the needed response, support and media coverage.”
So what will the play try and achieve? “It is a theatrical message”, Ibrahim said. “If wish they [the viewers] would think differently of the situation of migrant workers in general, and realize the weight of its unfairness, to say the least. I wish they’d share what they see with others.”
The play is hosted by the Non-Discrimination Club and the Migrant Workers Task Force and will take place this Saturday at 7:30 pm at the Bathish Auditorium of the American University of Beirut. All proceeds of the play will go to improving health care for migrant workers in Lebanon via initiatives by Rahel Zegeye and the Migrant Workers Task Force. The play is in Arabic and will feature Rahel Zegeye, Alsabt Gezaue, Etafeahu Aweke, Brihane Sate, Samuel Tesfaye, Nardos Hayelu, Aynalem Alemo, Baye desisa, Selame Tesfaye, Ameen Rhayem, Omar Harfouch , Yanita Georgieva, Lynn Laz and Karim Naccach.
Here is the link to the Event.