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With Lebanon in crisis, AP team sheds rare light on the elderly

Marie Orfali, 76, left, and her husband Raymond pose for a photo in their Beirut apartment, June 15, 2021. Tiny and bowed by age, Marier makes the trip five times a week from her Beirut apartment to the local church, a charity and a nearby soup kitchen to fetch a cooked meal for the couple. With virtually no government social services available, the couple survives almost solely on charity. (AP Photo / Hassan Ammar)

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The Beirut team of reporter Sarah El Deeb, senior producer Fay Abuelgasim and photographer Hassan Ammar explored the country’s often-neglected elderly population, particularly those who suffer from poverty amid Lebanon’s dual crises of the pandemic and a sinking economy. Lebanon has the greatest number of elderly in the Middle East, but most of the population above the age of 65 has no retirement benefits or health care coverage, leaving them to fend for themselves.

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Marie Orfali and her husband Raymond share a moment in their Beirut apartment, June 15, 2021. – AP Photo / Hassan Ammar

The moving and informative all-formats story leads with an elderly couple who received a one-time $15,000 payout when the husband retired 20 years ago. They have since depended on charity to cover almost everything; the cash they get from charitable sources every month, once amounting to $400, is now barely worth $40 as Lebanon’s currency collapses.

The story played widely and the AP team received messages from people around the world asking how they can help those featured in the story. Al-Jazeera ran a gallery of Hassan’s photos, while among those sharing the piece was a U.S. diplomat in the region who described it as “horrifying details from Lebanon’s Year Zero.”

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A homeless Lebanese man sleeps on a refrigerator inside a deserted house in Beirut, May 13, 2021. About 80% of Lebanon’s population above the age of 65 has no retirement benefits or health care coverage, according to the U.N.’s International Labor Organization. – AP Photo / Hassan Ammar
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