An Interview with Parliamentary Candidate: Nuhad Dumit

Nuhad Dumit is an activist, nurse and an associate professor of nursing at the American University of Beirut. She is also a founder, member, and current President of the Order of the Nurses in Lebanon. Dumit has run several campaigns on HIV control, prevention, and awareness in schools, and to health professionals, and the general public, and is an advocate of the incorporation of sexual education into the school curriculums and the employment of qualified nurses throughout public schools in Lebanon

Dumit has worked with numerous organizations such as UNFPA, UNICEF, the Order of Doctors, the Order of Pharmacists, and Order of Physiotherapists to improve quality of healthcare in Lebanon. She has also worked with the Ministry of Education in accrediting university programs in nursing.

Dumit is running for the Evangelical seat in Beirut II under the Kelna Beirut electoral campaign.

What are the primary reasons that made you want to run for parliament? What are the main pillars of your platform?

In reality, I was always an activist, but I never thought that I would run for parliament.

Numerous individuals have encouraged me to run, from my colleagues at the faculty of nursing and those at the order of nurses, and would tell me that, “you know the problems in depth, and if you have alternative ideas, and you know the problems with the implementation of legislations and regulations.” And I thought to myself that I do have the framework of how we can monitor the implementation and evaluation of regulations and legislations, and evaluate them accordingly, and revise them to reduce the flaws to then better serve the society.

The main pillars of my campaign is first to reduce the systemic failure at the levels of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, and representing people’s rights to quality health care services and quality education. I am setting a strategy/plan on engaging different health care professionals, creating awareness in the public sphere about the rights in health care and education, and who I should be contacting.

The second is to expedite the creation of laws and the implementation of laws that protect the environment, and the reinforce people’s basic human rights.

The third is to create policies that provide residents in Lebanon with quality health care services.

Is the representation of the people’s interest something that you consider to be essential?

Yes, it is essential.

Look, when I thought of what it is that I can add, and where am I going to contribute in the parliament. Because I have experienced this, I know for a fact that we have problems with implementations of our laws. There are laws that are not being implemented, and there are laws that are archaic and outdated, and they should be reconsidered. There are new laws that we should be creating, let’s say the healthcare rights of people, and specifically of special populations and groups that are often marginalized. The main issue in Lebanon is that there is lack of basic respect for human rights of the people. In nursing, we have a background in advocating for people’s rights. Hopefully, if elected, I will work to promote these basic rights through my determination and with the experience that I have gained over my life as an activist. People have always expressed their doubts in my endeavors, but I believe that someone should always start somewhere, and someone needs to take the risk. And I am ready and determined to do that.

According to a report by the International Labor Organization in 2014,  unemployment rate in Lebanon is 24%, while youth unemployment has been reported to be 35%, how will you work to address this and what steps should the government take to increase and to generate sustainable job creation?

The first aspect of the problem and one of the thing I have talked about and have noticed, based on my field research, is that students in schools are not helped in selecting a career that fits their personality. So, there is something wrong at the school level. Let alone that we don’t have jobs in the country.

Let’s start with the basics, everyone wanted to be a doctor, engineer, or lawyer. Students would pay money and stay in university for six years to get a degree in a certain major, because they do not fit. And perhaps they could fit better, in a major than no one had informed them about.The school system does not have career guidance programs for their students.

The second aspect of the problem is that Lebanon is a country that kills its own industry. Why can’t we have our own industry? We have potential in creating our own industries. We have rich lands for agriculture.Whenever I visit the Bekaa area, there are usually beautiful fields on one side, and neglected fields on another. The government should make it a point to support agriculture in a better way. When you support agriculture, and you support local industries, you create jobs.

The third aspect is that if you allow young men and women, who have brilliant ideas on how to create a small business and how to grow, they should be supported. Laws should be created and implemented to facilitate that for them. In this way, jobs will also be created.

The fourth aspect is that if I talk about nursing alone, we need 24,000 nurses in Lebanon, but we only have 7,000 nurses serving at the point of service. So 17,000 jobs should be available for nurses in Lebanon. But where are all our nurses? They are leaving the country, because they are not paying them well, they are not treating them well, and they are not respecting them well. North America, as well as the countries in the Gulf, are taking our best health care providers. More and more hospitals are opening up in Lebanon, but how are they going to provide services?

If we pay nurses their rightful salaries, and really staff organizations properly with quality nurses, we will save a lot of money. It will decrease costs, even for the Ministry of Health, because 20 years of nursing and health research proved that if you have a qualified number of nurses, you will decrease health complications by 15 percent. That constitutes millions of dollars. Even a lot of funds will be used to keep the nurses in Lebanon; but eventually it will save a lot of money.

The fifth aspect is that we are a country that provides services, hotel services, touristic areas etc… Why can’t we invest in those? Do a better service, create jobs, make people happier to come back to Lebanon satisfied. Creating an environment for investing in and providing quality services in every segment will then require more staff and more employees. So, if there is a national plan by the government, where they invest in agriculture, small industries that have potential to grow, and in services, whether in a hotel or even in health.

Lebanon has also signed an agreement in Dubai for Lebanon to become a country for health tourism. How is this possible without retaining our health care providers at different levels? We can’t. And we don’t want to think, and we don’t want to better ourselves. We want to make a lot of money in the short run, with poor services. If we rethink and reformulate how we think about the future of Lebanon, I am positive we can create jobs.

With another waste crisis looming, what steps do you think parliament should take to tackle this issue? Is incineration a viable option?

Basically, I am very opposed to incineration because of the toxic fumes, and I strongly believe that waste management should be taught at the school level, the domestic level, and at the service level, whether at hotels or hospitals.

Is recycling a viable and practical option? Should recycling be made mandatory for every household in Lebanon?

We have to create a culture of recycling. Adapting to recycling may be hard to change your perception and behavior at first, but when you get into the habit of doing it regularly, it becomes a part of your daily routine. We need to create a culture of recycling, and especially managing the waste at home or the workplace.

At home, we need to teach housewives or househusbands to cook their food portions as needed, as to reduce the amount of food that is thrown out. While grocery shopping, instead of using plastic bags from the supermarket, take your own cotton bags with you and recycle. It is about creating that habit.

For example, when we started to abide by the traffic lights in Beirut in specific, it was quite difficult for citizens in Lebanon to adapt, because people would always cross traffic lights and others would shout at them. Now, almost everyone stops at the traffic light. It took a year or more, but people got into the habit of stopping at traffic lights.

Recycling should be taught everywhere and should be started somewhere. At schools, at home, at work, at universities, in hotels, in banks etc… If we all work together to make this happen, it will become a part of our culture, a part of our habits, so this is waste management starts. In fact, there has been a draft law in the Ministry of Environment since 2002, and it has an excellent plan of how to manage waste in Lebanon. But, not many people know of its existence, and even those that do know of its existence are not ready to talk about it and demand its implementation.

One of the candidates in Kelna Beirut, Doctor Naji Kodeih, is an expert in the field, and we can use these experts in effectively managing the waste crisis.

In terms of real estate and real estate malpractices at the expense of the greenery in Lebanon, do you think economic development should trump the environmental conservation in Lebanon and what policies do you think parliament can develop to reduce these malpractices?

Of course, there should be laws on cutting trees, on building buildings that are too close to one another, on only building buildings when there are enough green spaces in the area for the people to breathe. I mean look at Beirut, look at how ugly it is becoming. It is all stone and concrete. This is completely unacceptable, and totally unhealthy. No hospital should be built within a city. A patient goes to a hospital to seek health care services, but is inhaling all sorts of fumes. There are no parking spaces, there are no green spaces.

We need laws to make all of this happen. The municipality of Baabda passed and implanted a law that requires that each building should be built 4 meters apart, though this is not nearly enough, it is a step forward. With building in Beirut being as clustered as they are, residents can hardly breathe and there is a real lack of privacy. We do not have adequate urban planning, and we urgently need urban planning that should be tied to the creation and implementation of laws and regulations.

How will you work to promote environmental conservation and undertaking environmental impact reporting in the new oil-drilling sector in Lebanon?

I am not very familiar with this particular topic. But as always I genuinely believe that we should always consult with experts in the field. For me, the basic rule is that we shouldn’t play with nature, because nature will play against us. So, as a health care professional, I am against anything that affects the environment, and affects where I live. Laws and regulations should always be created and implemented to protect the environment.

What role do you think public spaces play in society? Do you think that the increase in public spaces would serve to promote unity in Lebanon? How will you work to conserve and create public spaces in Lebanon?

I believe that public spaces are a solution for the Lebanese community to get together, and to feel like they belong to the same country. It will enhance as sense of citizenship. In addition, public spaces create a healthy environment for the people, where they can play, they can talk, they can read, and they can do some sports. And when I say healthy, I don’t only mean physical health, I also mean psychological health.

When you’re in a public place with trees here and water there, you feel comfortable and you can integrate into society better. People in urban areas in Lebanon are usually angry when they are walking through the streets, and I believe the solution is to provide green public spaces, so that they would have a place to think, contemplate, rest, and exercise. It creates a community, where people feel like they belong to something.

Human Rights Watch released a report in January of 2018 on the alarming air pollution rates in Lebanon due to the burning of waste, what policies do you think the parliament should develop and to prohibit these environmental malpractices and to reduces air pollution?

There should be laws to prohibit the burning of waste, burning trees, and the destruction of the environment. There should be laws and harsh sanctions against these practices. It is uncivilized, unjust, and unfair for these kinds of activities to persist. There should sanctions and mechanisms to follow up on the enforcement of these sanctions.

However, it is not only about sanctions, reducing these malpractices heavily relies on public awareness and education to the public. Instead of negatively addressing the issue, you address them positively so people and experts will cooperate and collaborate with one another to find a solution that is best for all. So education is a very important thing.

We shouldn’t only rely on education from schools, there are a lot organizations, associations, and coalitions that work in this domain, If these civil society groups get together to produce awareness and education programs to create a sense of responsibility to protect the environment that we live in

How would you describe the Lebanese government’s performance and actions in dealing with the Syrian refugee issue?

First, I believe that the Syrian refugee cause is being abused, because ministries and governmental departments in Lebanon receive a lot of funds from international organizations to initiate projects that are meant to aid Syrian refugees, but no one knows how this money is being spent.

Once, UNFPA contacted me to work on a well-funded project to train social workers to speak to Syrian refugee women about family planning. I refused first because it is not my specialty, and second you cannot really teach Syrian refugee women about family planning when the husband is the decision maker in the family, and I genuinely thought that it was a waste of money.

Instead, my colleagues worked on it, and did a great job, but there were no significant outcomes. It would have been better to provide them with basic necessities of everyday living, such as food, clothing, shelter, and clean water, rather than spending money on unnecessary things like family planning. Spending money on the right things for Syrian refugees is entirely missed by the international community as well as local government.

So, there should be regulation to protect Syrian refugees from being abused, and that provide them with the basics of living. Also, governmental spending on Syrian refugees should be monitored and regulated and a mechanism should created for the purpose of making sure that the money is going into the right places.

In terms of a woman’s right to be able to naturalize and pass on the Lebanese nationality to her children, do you think the parliament should work to create a policy that naturalize every Lebanese woman’s children, or only allow women to pass on their nationality based on certain exceptions?

All Lebanese women should be able to give the Lebanese nationality to their children. Why should Lebanese men only be able to pass on the nationality, while women cannot? This is discrimination. Irrespective of gender, if a Lebanese woman decides to marry a man of another nationality, I should be able to give him and my children the Lebanese nationality. I am as Lebanese as my brother, I should have the same rights.