I was on a Zoom call with the Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholars community, at 6 pm, in our apartment on the 10th floor in the heart of Beirut. Suddenly, my room started shaking. An extremely loud noise directly followed, with bright pink smoke filling the sky. The horror was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, given that I’ve already lived through war and unrest in Beirut.
Shortly after, news sources reported explosions at the Beirut Port.
More than a week later, the physical cause of the explosions is still unknown. However, the Lebanese government’s corruption is to blame firsthand. Governmental employees carelessly stored around 2,750 tons of explosive ammonium nitrate at the port, with no precautions taken to prevent such possible disasters.
Unfortunately, growing up in Lebanon, most citizens learned that they could never depend on the government’s promises and efforts. That’s why, directly after the explosions, the scene in Beirut was incredibly heartwarming but expected, too: thousands of citizens took to the streets to volunteer.
Since then, my daily routine has been similar to that of thousands of citizens: wake up, volunteer, sleep, repeat.
Hundreds of volunteer-led initiatives have been set up by youth, spearheading the disaster relief efforts. On the ground, students flocked to the affected neighborhoods – such neighborhoods were once major hangout locations that housed art hubs, museums, international exhibits – but this time, youth arrived with brooms and cleaning equipment. Offre Joie received more than 6,000 volunteer sign-ups just three days after calling for volunteers. The Lebanese Red Cross, hours after announcing a massive need for blood, stated that it has received an overwhelming amount of blood donations from hundreds of citizens.
Mobilizing for disaster relief was not only limited to on-the-ground efforts. I’m currently an organizer with Locate Victims Beirut, and our youth-led initiative has helped locate missing and found victims with an accessible database and an Instagram account (@locatevictimsbeirut) with more than 100,000 followers spreading the word. Our volunteers are based in Lebanon, the United States, and France, among other countries, and we’re leading this massive digital effort that should have been otherwise handled by governmental ministries.
The Lebanese diaspora also ran huge fundraisers. Impact Lebanon has raised more than £6,000,000 to be donated directly to organizations assisting with relief efforts.
To be honest, even though the Lebanese people are well-known for their resilience, this disaster is extremely hard to swallow. My uncle was an employee at the port, so he lost his job overnight. My friend’s house was completely destroyed. Almost every citizen in Lebanon knows someone who lost a loved one, life savings, a job, or their home. At the time of writing this piece, the Beirut explosion has caused more than 170 deaths, and it has left more than 6,000 injured and 300,000 homeless citizens.
The only ray of hope we still have is represented by the citizens of Lebanon – the strong, generous people, Lebanese and non-Lebanese, who rushed to volunteer, with rebuilding Beirut being the only goal in mind.
And rebuild we will.