The Lebanese youth helping Beirut heal its wounds
BEIRUT | Pamela Kesrouani
Hilda is a clothing store owner who decided to close her business in order to lend a helping hand on the streets of Beirut.
"I am ashamed to express my frustration, especially when thinking of those with beloved ones under debris, or those who lost their homes,” she tells us. “We need actions rather than emotions at this stage. We got together and got some assistance from our acquaintances, then, all of a sudden, we received food and water aid. We are on the ground every day, and we became a single-spirited group, so to speak.
“We clean houses, protect them from looting, and fix their doors. We are all volunteers, and every group is doing its best.”
As reported, numerous streets and neighbourhoods have been affected in Beirut, including Karantina, Mdawar, Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael, Achrafieh, and many others.
Commenting on the widely shared sense of frustration, Hilda adds: “People would never go back to their homes if we just waited for the Higher Relief Committee to take action."
THE REALITY OF THE AFTERMATH
Roaming the city’s streets of course presents a much more devastating reality than any imagery or video on the news or social media could portray.
Piles of debris, broken glass and rubble has become a defining feature of the once-busy streets. They are now packed with tents of charities and organisations, as well as individual groups, and young people who have flocked from all over the country with brooms and shovels wandering buildings that have collapsed or are close to collapsing.
According to many people on the ground, this momentum was neither organised nor efficient for the first few days after the explosion. Those helping mainly consisted of two groups. First, there were those there to help clean the damaged houses of their loved ones.
Michelle, who came to help her uncle and brother, noted that the extent of the damage would require many people and long days of work.
“I felt that I needed to be part of the cleaning campaign,” she explains. “Cleaning is much easier than reconstruction. But I felt that staying home and doing nothing would only aggravate my tension and frustration."
Meanwhile, thousands of people who were not directly affected by the explosion, shared the same attitude and descended on the damaged areas to help.
Eventually, NGOs that are traditionally accustomed to dealing with extraordinary circumstances, managed to organise and join forces. Other aid operations also commenced; Boot Camp Beirut, for example, is a joint project that includes several local groups and organisations such as Muwaten Lubnani, Mintishreen, Baitna Baitak, and Embrace.
POWER OF THE PEOPLE
Nonetheless, it is still remarkable to see the momentum of individuals and groups, many of whom admit that they never previously had an interest in humanitarian volunteer work.
"Hand in hand, we will rebuild our country," was the overall sentiments of nearly everyone we encountered, all deciding to take action into their own hands and heal their own wounds.
Rumi, who is not from Lebanon, did not want to stay at her resort, opting to help instead. Even though it started as an individual initiative, she turned to Muwaten Lubnani to ensure she was providing the right assistance.
“If you have a real desire to help, you can organise yourself," she said, "After heading to their tent, the Muwaten Lubnani initiative provided us with all the necessary equipment and directed us towards a destroyed house. We arrived at the house to see that the owner still living there despite the destruction."
One lady asked the young people who gratuitously helped clean her residence says: "How can we return the favour?".
There are so many other stories of people dedicating their time towards helping their own or adopted community. There’s Ralph, who started off clearing the damaged houses of his relatives, before returning with a bigger group of friends to clean more houses.
There’s Samer who offered his services to the Lebanese Scouting Federation.
"As a senior scout, I volunteered and they made me join teams that were cleaning and sorting the debris and glass from some of the schools’ classrooms. We’re 350 volunteers, spread across different locations," he says.
While some have thankfully only had to deal with minor damages to their property, there are others who have ended up completely homeless. Shop owners haven’t been immune either.
Araa, the owner of an antiques and carpet store, was spotted trying to gather what was left of his merchandise.
"Who will compensate us for the damages, which may be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in my store, as I had to throw away many torn carpets?" he asks.
Nevertheless, they’re still grateful to be alive.
Barbershop owner Souma tells us: "We got used to such incidents; however, I feel sorry for those who missed or lost a loved one due to the explosion."
While everyone is joining forces to help, everyone is aware and realistic about the fact that that their endeavours are neither sufficient nor sustainable in the long run. However, it is the community’s way of refusing to give in to desperation. The people of Lebanon are determined to the country of their dreams one day.