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A Piece of Home that Never Leaves: The Lebanese Diaspora’s Role in Rebuilding Beirut
Posted on Sep 16, 2020 |
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The impact of the Beirut blast on August 4 hit every Lebanese person worldwide. There are approximately 4 million Lebanese living in the country, and the diaspora makes up 6 to 9 million. As I kept repeating the visual of the explosion in my head, imagining the crumbling of the capital, the Lebanese diaspora had sprung into action instantly. They seemed to tell Lebanon and Beirut “this hurts you, and we’ve got your back.” The role of the diaspora has been quintessential, and above all, critical.

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A Piece of Home that Never Leaves: The Lebanese Diaspora’s Role in Rebuilding Beirut

The impact of the Beirut blast on August 4 hit every Lebanese person worldwide. There are approximately 4 million Lebanese living in the country, and the diaspora makes up 6 to 9 million. As I kept repeating the visual of the explosion in my head, imagining the crumbling of the capital, the Lebanese diaspora had sprung into action instantly. They seemed to tell Lebanon and Beirut “this hurts you, and we’ve got your back.” The role of the diaspora has been quintessential, and above all, critical.

Wherever they were, the Lebanese expats were quick to send money to loved ones impacted by the blast, create online fundraisers for humanitarian aid to be donated to the Lebanese Red Cross and other trusted NGOs, as well as send packages with medical supplies, food, and even clothes. Above all, they spread awareness to non-Lebanese people, spurring them to come together and help however they could as well.

“The diaspora has been the guardian angel of the Lebanese economy throughout history,” said Dubai-based Lebanese fashionista Paola El Sitt. El Sitt, in partnership with the Emirates Red Crescent and Al Mawakeb School, managed to raise more than a 160 tons of aid supplies within three days. “It’s a national duty for each and every expat to stand next to Lebanon today in every way possible.”

Impact Lebanon, a non-profit organization based in London and founded by members of the Lebanese diaspora, created a disaster relief fund that raised around 6.5 million pounds to help trusted organizations on the ground.

“We have a firm belief at Impact Lebanon that change needs to be owned and driven locally and domestically, and we view our role in the diaspora as catalytic to such change,” said Bilal Malaeb, co-founder of Impact Lebanon. “The diaspora has enough emotional distance to be able to mobilize, but also strong enough an emotional connection and access to local networks. We believe that rebuilding Beirut is a national effort that the diaspora is part and parcel of, but it needs to be domestically owned.”

The explosion happened against the backdrop of one of the worst economic crises Lebanon has witnessed—one only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. An assessment[1] conducted by the International Labour Organization, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, the United Nations Development Program, and others, showed an overall deterioration in the living and working conditions of the people in Lebanon as a result of the pandemic.

In addition, due to the economic crisis, unrelated to the pandemic, Lebanon has been facing issues of famine akin to the Great Famine of 1915 as food prices have gone up 56 percent since October, based on a report by Business Insider[2] in July. According to the UNDP[3], approximately 300,000 people have been displaced—plus the country’s main source of imports, the port, is currently under rehabilitation since the blast, based on a report by Dar al Handasah.

“The suffering and misery are real, and we are entitled to feel them and mourn what we had lost, so we do not take that away from our friends and family,” said Malaeb. “That said, throughout the recent crises it was also clear that the Lebanese have resolved to taking their lives and their futures in their own hands.”

The organization is one way the diaspora expresses their loyalty to their home country—the initiative sprung out of the need of the Lebanese outside of Lebanon to help their country from a distance—and since the explosion, this sort of devotion has only amplified.

German-Lebanese Maria Haag and English-Lebanese Rasha Chahine prioritized spreading awareness about the situation in Lebanon since the blast and, through their university in Kent, England, they started a campaign to donate money to local NGOs. They described having a crippling feeling of seeing your home destroyed and not being able to help “hands on,” as Haag said.

Chahine also added that as a member of the diaspora they knew they had to do everything possible to raise awareness on what happened on August 4.

A Michigan-based Lebanese American medical student, Majd Faraj, with the help of the Lebanese community in the city, raised almost $70,000 in medical supplies to send to Lebanon.

The Centre National Libano-Canadien also instantly created a go-fund me page aimed to raise money for medical supplies, housing, food, and more.

The Brazilian-Lebanese community spurred into action immediately; the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce launched a donation campaign in partnership with the Lebanese-Brazilian Medical association to provide food, medical equipment, medicine, and building material for immediate relief, according to their website.

What Beirut saw was that her children are there for her no matter how far they are.

“Each and every one of us has a duty to contribute in bringing back Lebanon on its feet,” said El Sitt. “Recovery is going to take time, but we will get through it when we join forces.”

At 2:55pm on a Sunday two weeks after the explosion, I was sitting at the window and smiling, albeit sadly. It dawned on me then that it doesn’t matter if I live in another country. Once you live in in this place, you never really leave—and with that, there are still hopes for a better Lebanon.



[1] International Labour Organization, 2020. Rapid Assessment Highlights Impact Of COVID-19 Pandemic On Vulnerable Workers And Small-Scale Businesses In Lebanon. [online] Available at: <https://www.ilo.org/beirut/media-centre/news/WCMS_747082/lang--en/index.htm>

 

[2] Al-Arshani, S., 2020. A massive economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic are pushing Lebanon towards a famine. Business Insider, [online] Available at: <https://www.businessinsider.com/massive-economic-crisis-and-coronavirus-push-lebanon-towards-famine-2020-7>

 

[3] UNDP, 2020. UNDP To Focus On Inclusive Recovery As It Supports Lebanon Following The Beirut Blast Catastrophe. [online] Available at: <https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/news-centre/news/2020/UNDP_to_focus_on_inclusive_recovery_as_it_supports_Lebanon_following_the_Beirut_blast_catastrophe

 

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