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Lebanese group gives a home away from home to health workers

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Lebanese group gives a home away from home to health workers

BEIRUT — In the middle of the destroyed Beirut neighborhood of Gemmayzeh, a small team in masks and gloves were sanitizing and packing oxygen machines to be sent to those in need.

It’s the latest venture of a Lebanese civil group that arose with the coronavirus pandemic and has been finding new avenues to help as the country’s crises expand.

“No one is exempt from COVID. Nobody. Nobody has super-power immunity,” said Melissa Fathallah, one of the founders of Baytna Baytak, Arabic for Our Home is Your Home.

“We saw that our own relatives and our colleagues are suffering with this, we decided, okay, we are going to start another fundraiser and to specifically focus on the oxygen machines.”

Raising more than $27,000, they currently have placed 48 machines with those who need it across the country.

Baytna Baytak, with 110 staffers, launched at the start of the pandemic with a very different initiative: Finding a home away from home for front-line workers who were worried about exposing their families to the virus. During Lebanon’s first lockdown in March, they housed 750 front-line workers in various apartments.

Chloe Ghosh, a 26-year-old medical resident at a government hospital in Beirut, has been living in accommodations provided by the group since the start of the pandemic.

Her family is from Tannourine, a small town 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Lebanon. For her, putting her family at risk was another burden she couldn’t fathom.

“If I got COVID or anyone my age got COVID, we could survive,” Ghosh said. “But our families, no.”

Her first accommodation with the group was wrecked when another disaster struck Beirut, the massive Aug. 4 explosion at the city’s port. The blast killed more than 200 people, injured 6,000 others and destroyed thousands of homes.

Ghosh was unharmed. She moved to another place provided by Baytna Baytak across town in Hamra street. She now shares a four-bedroom apartment with three other medical workers who work in different hospitals around the city.

On a recent afternoon, Gosh and one her apartment mates, Issa Tannous, were decompressing after a long day, sipping a cup of coffee in front of the lights strung across the apartment’s windows. It was a rare instance when they were home at the same time.

“At the end of the day, someone cared for us,” said Tannous, a 28-year-old medical resident at private hospital. “Someone appreciated what you are going through and all that is going through our heads. It gave us space not to be afraid, not to worry that we might actually hurt someone.”

The apartment was donated to Baytna Baytak by a philanthropist to help accommodate the front-line workers. The same donor gave several other properties around Beirut for the same purpose.

After the port explosion, Baytna Baytak rushed to expand its efforts to help those whose homes had been shattered. It placed them in temporary housing while it helped raise funds to fix their homes. Within the first 24 hours of the call for housing, they had six apartments donated.

Baytna Baytak grew out a lack of services provided for front-line workers in Lebanon, Fathallah said.

“As far as the government is concerned, we don’t have a government. Let’s just get that out of the way,” she said. “If we actually want to acknowledge their existence, then they are a completely failed government in every which way possible.”

Lebanon’s health sector is overworked and stretched thin, even more so after the explosion.

Doctors are working multiple shifts a day to cover for colleagues infected with the virus. More than 2,300 Lebanese health care workers have been infected since February, according to the Order of Physicians.

Lebanon has over 14,000 medical doctors and 17,000 nurses, but many doctors have also left the country, reeling from a crippling economic crisis that preceded the pandemic.

After the explosion, Lebanon saw a major surge in COVID-19 infections that only worsened by the end of 2020, forcing Baytna Baytak to put some of its work on hold. Donors also were fewer.

Currently, they have 100 front-line workers placed in six apartments, a few hotels and a Covent.

Still, the group has continued to work amid a 24-hour lockdown that started mid-January. Even while distributing oxygen machines, the team was getting fined for violating curfew.

Fathallah is determined to keep going.

“We took it upon ourselves because of the greater good, because of the bigger picture because of the country and the citizens. We took it upon ourselves.”

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IKEA Juneteenth menu of watermelon, fried chicken sparks outrage

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IKEA Juneteenth menu of watermelon, fried chicken sparks outrage

An attempt to honor Juneteenth has backfired spectacularly for one Georgia Ikea.

An Atlanta branch of the Scandinavian furniture chain has sparked outrage with what employees are calling an intensely problematic menu curated to celebrate the holiday, which marks the emancipation of the very last enslaved Americans. 

“To honor the perseverance of Black Americans and acknowledge the progress yet to be made, we observe Juneteenth on Saturday, June 19, 2021,” begins an email acquired by TMZ, which was sent to employees at the branch last week. “Look out for a special menu on Saturday which will include: fried chicken, watermelon, mac n cheese, potato salad, collard greens, candied yams.” 

The selection, including items that have historically been used to demean African-Americans through stereotyping, resulted in multiple employees calling out of work in protest, according to a local news channel.

“You cannot say serving watermelon on Juneteenth is a soul food menu when you don’t even know the history. They used to feed slaves watermelon,” an anonymous employee told Atlanta’s CBS 46. “It caused a lot of people to be upset. People actually wanted to quit. People weren’t coming back to work.” 

As many as 33 workers didn’t show up in response, CBS reported, causing the store’s manager to apologize via internal email. 

“She said, ‘I truly apologize. The menu came off [offensive],’” the employee recalled.

But this wasn’t sufficient for forgiveness, and the worker said the controversy could have been easily avoided if only people of color had been included in the team that chose the menu. “None of the co-workers who sat down to create the menu, no one was black,” they added. 

The following day, the store manager told CBS a new, revised menu was released. The updated version included collard greens, cornbread, mashed potatoes and meatloaf. And Sunday’s menu? “Fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, collard greens,” the employee said.

Ikea did not return The Post’s request for comment. 

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Serbian Roma girl band sings for women’s empowerment

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Zlata Ristic, 27, center, Elma Dalipi, 14, left, Silvia Sinani, 24, 2nd left, Dijana Ferhatovic, 18, 3rd left, Zivka Ferhatovic, 20, 2nd right, and Selma Dalipi, 14, members of the Pretty Loud band, practice at a music studio in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

BELGRADE, Serbia — Their songs are about “women chained” in abuse witnessed by generations, or teenage brides being forced into marriage by their fathers. And they tell women to seek love, fight back and stand up for their right to be equal with men.

A female Roma band in Serbia is using music to preach women’s empowerment within their community, challenging some deeply rooted traditions and centuries-old male domination.

Formed in 2014, “Pretty Loud” symbolically seeks to give a louder voice to Roma girls, encourage education and steer them away from the widespread custom of early marriage. The band has gained popularity and international attention, performing last year at the Women of the Year Festival in London.

“We want to stop the early marriages … we want the girls themselves and not their parents, to decide whether they want to marry or not,” said Silvia Sinani, one of the band members. “We want every woman to have the right to be heard, to have her dreams and to be able to fulfil them, to be equal,”

Sinani, 24, said the idea for an all-female band was born at education and artistic workshops run for Roma, or Gypsies, by a private foundation, Gypsy Roma Urban Balkan Beats. The girls initially danced in GRUBB’s boys’ band and then decided they wanted one of their own, she said.

“They (GRUBB) named us ‘Pretty Loud’ because they knew that women in Roma tradition are not really loud,” she said.

The band’s music, a combination of rap and traditional Roma folk beat, mainly targets a younger generation of girls who are yet to make their life choices — the band itself includes 14-year-old twin sisters. The songs tackle women’s position in their community and seek to boost their self-awareness.

The quest is essential in a community where early marriages are widespread — a UNICEF study published last year showed that over one-third of girls in Roma settlements in Serbia aged 15-19 are already married. Of them, 16 percent were married before they were 15.

Alarmed, Serbian authorities, too, have formed a state commission to try to reverse the trend.

“I am an example of early marriage,” said band member Zlata Ristic, 27, who gave birth to a baby boy at 16. “Nobody forced me into it but I have realized I should not have done it.”

Now a single mother, Ristic said she wants other women in similar situations to know that their lives are not over once they have children and that they can still pursue their dreams.

“My biggest reward is when 14-year-old girls write to me and say they want to become one of us, that they now attend school thanks to us, that they have improved their grades,” she said.

Among the most underprivileged ethnic communities in Serbia and Europe, the Roma largely live in segregated settlements on society’s fringes, facing poverty, joblessness and prejudice.

Activists have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has further fueled the social isolation of marginalized groups and increased their poverty. Disruptions of regular schooling due to the virus lockdowns have made it even harder for Roma children to stay in the system.

At the GRUBB center in Belgrade’s Zemun district, several children could be seen working with young instructors in an improvised classroom. The girls from “Pretty Loud” teach at music and dance workshops run by GRUBB, which was established in Serbia in 2006.

Diana Ferhatovic, 18, first came to the center four years ago, initially seeking help with school lessons before joining the music program and finding her way into “Pretty Loud.” Their performance in London last March — just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting — was unforgettable, she said.

“I had a kind of positive jitters, we all did at first, the whole group,” Ferhatovic said. “Then we blew them off their feet.”

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Screen all kids for heart problems, pediatricians say

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Screen all kids for heart problems, pediatricians say

All children, regardless of their athletic status, should be screened for risk of cardiac arrest, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a policy statement Monday. The group included four questions to incorporate into the screenings, including two pertaining to family history of heart issues. 

“The unexpected death of a seemingly healthy child is a tragedy not only for the family but for the family community as well,” the AAP said in a statement regarding the policy, which will be published in the July issue of Pediatrics. “Multiple studies have looked at sudden deaths in young people either as a whole or by individual disease processes. However, most of these studies are published in cardiology journals. The goal of the AAP-PACES policy is to present expanded information to pediatricians and other primary care providers.” 

The guidelines suggest screening for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and sudden cardiac death (SCD) should be performed during the preparticipation physical evaluation or at least every three years or on entry into middle/junior high school and high school. In addition to family history, the group recommends physicians inquire about fainting, passing out, or unexplained seizures without warning, especially during exercise, or in response to loud noises such as doorbells, alarm clocks and telephones, or if a patient has ever had exercise-related chest pain or shortness of breath. 

“Realizing that primary prevention methods are less than perfect, the policy soldiers secondary prevention, including the creation of a cardiac emergency response plan for schools and the role of the primary care provider as an advocate for CPR and automated external defibrillator training. It also provides information on the family evaluation following a cardiac arrest/death, including addressing bereavement, autopsies and genetic testing. Lastly, there is a section for survivors of cardiac arrest on returning to activity after recovery.” 

The group also advises that an ECG be the first test ordered when there is concern for SCA risk. 

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