When there’s a problem, ‘we just pray’: Lebanese teen started charity to get medical care to poor

Lebanon charity Marina Khawand started Medonations in response to the economic crisis that is crippling the Lebanese economy. | Marina Khawand

Twenty-one-year-old Helena Andraos only remembers one thing from her 10-day coma: waking up.

At 19, she was nearly killed in the devastating explosion that rocked the coastal port of Beirut, Lebanon, just over two years ago. Knocked unconscious by the blast while in her home, Andraos was left with a black eye the size of a baseball, shattered glass implanted in her skull, a fractured knee, and abrasions all over her body.

Helena Andraos when she woke up from her coma. Helena Andraos
Helena Andraos when she woke up from her coma. Helena Andraos

Although she woke up from her coma, the fight for her life had only just begun. She had to pay thousands of dollars for follow-up head surgery to preserve her life. 

But that amount of money is out of reach for most Lebanese, including Andraos, as an ongoing economic crisis has crippled the Middle Eastern country.

Andraos got the money she needed for her surgery in fewer than two weeks thanks to the hard work of another 19-year-old woman, Marina Khawand from Beirut. Khawand, now 21, could not afford to personally donate any money to Andraos. All Khawand had was a willing heart.

But that willing heart accomplished huge feats, as Andraos became one of the thousands of ill or injured Lebanese who benefited from Khawand’s missionary work following the blast.

Khawand’s mission of aiding the sick and poor during the ongoing fiscal disaster turned into a nongovernmental organization in Lebanon that has since served 18,000 people in the country. She says that her work is just beginning.

‘I had faith’

Khawand’s Beirut-based NGO, which she called Medonations, aims to provide free, equal, and fair medical assistance to all vulnerable Lebanese patients living in the country, she said. 

Khawand says common over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol are hard to come by in the country, even if one can afford it, because of supply chain problems. 

So, the main service Medonations provides is securing medicine for Lebanese patients who are otherwise unable to afford or obtain them. But her services are flexible depending on what is needed most at the moment.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Medonations provided oxygen machines to COVID-19 patients. In September, Khawand distributed solar panel backpacks to schoolchildren that provided power for cell phones and flashlights in order to keep a continual charge while the country suffers major power supply problems.

She has also raised money for surgery, as in Andraos’s case. 

Khawand raises the funds and resources through calls for help on social media. She says the response of individuals all over the world has been overwhelming.

Khawand’s mission of helping her people began on Aug. 4, 2020, the day of the Beirut blast. 

“After the blast, I just went down the streets. I didn’t have any resources to help. I just went down, cleaning down the homes, asking people how we can help them, and trying to rescue some of the citizens that were severely injured,” Khawand said.

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It was soon after the blast that Khawand heard about Andraos’ situation. 

After Andraos woke up from her coma, she needed $7,000 to pay for surgery on her skull. It would cost another $1,000 for physical therapy following the surgery.

“I had faith that we would be able to raise the money,” Khawand told CNA. The money was raised in a week and a half through a flier on Instagram. Now, Andraos, completely recovered from her surgery, is one of the volunteers that helps Khawand serve. They’ve also become close friends.

Marina Khawand and Helena Andraos became good friends after Khawand helped raise $7,000 for Andraos's head surgery. Marina Khawand
Marina Khawand and Helena Andraos became good friends after Khawand helped raise $7,000 for Andraos's head surgery. Marina Khawand

“Marina is incredible. I don’t know how at 19 she started doing Medonations and how she’s still managing it with her university studies,” Andraos said. 

In addition to her friendship with Andraos, Khawand maintains strong relationships between the families that she serves on a monthly basis, she said.

“Many of the families have invited us to their houses for some coffee, lunch, dinner, and some have come to visit us in our offices as well,” she said. “We volunteer our work and it’s not a job for us.”

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Andraos, now with a brand new plate in her head from her surgery, said that volunteering with Medonations has been the “best experience in my life” because of the smiles of people she has helped.

Medonations is run completely by volunteers. Not even Khawand takes a salary for her work, which she takes on along with her law degree studies at Sagesse University in Forn El Chebbak — just outside of Beirut.

But it’s all worth it because she knows this is what God is calling her to do, she said.

“Seeing all this suffering, more than a hundred patients per day, it’s not in your hands, it’s all in God’s hands,” Khawand said. “So every single time we see a problem, we just pray.”