Hiba Hajj Omar, Medair’s Communications Officer in Lebanon, was part of the initial team assessing the damage. She reflects:
I still can’t believe what I saw.
No words could do my feelings justice as I walked the streets of Beirut two days after the catastrophic blast. I don’t know if it was sadness, fear or anger. People had lost their lives while hundreds were still missing under piles of rubble and thousands more battle their wounds. Not to mention the millions of broken hearts and shattered dreams.
The more I trace old footsteps of the Beirut I used to know, the more pain I see. Shattered glass lies everywhere, coated maroon, telling the bleeding stories of Beirut’s sons and daughters. The scent of the city’s jasmine and lemon trees was shy to flatter the air that smelled of dust and blood. Beirut was hopeless, tired and broken.
Behind those scenes were heartbreaking stories of loss, pain and trauma. I’ll never forget the words of people I met today; “I saw my mother die in front of my eyes.” “I slept with dogs in the street last night.” “I fell off the balcony of my house and still don’t know where my sons are.” “Do you know what is underneath the gauze on my face, hands and legs?” “I wish I died.” “I lost my dreams, my house, my work, my memories, my laptop, my cellphone, my books, my plants, my paintings, the journal my mom wrote for me, I lost my sense of being, I lost, I lost, I lost, I am lost…” “I will never leave this place, I will die here, no matter what.” “Whenever I close my eyes, I recall it all, that orange smoke that changed my life.” “We have no water to wash the blood away.”
I saw a mother crying in silence, stoic in front of her children. I saw a father, dismayed, sifting through the rubble of his workshop; a workshop which had put food on his family’s table. I saw a family loading their car, windows cracked with the impact of debris, with food, mattresses and pillows, and leaving their home to find a decent shelter for their two girls and newborn.
As I stand in the streets of this city I love, I cannot accept the reality that Beirut is weak, because I know that people have suffered and survived a lot for many years. Even before the chaos of the blast, families in Lebanon have been dealing with the collapsing economy, the currency devaluation, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Syrian refugee crisis.
Beirut is not weak, nor are the people who called this country home. In a day, people from all over the country joined Beirut families to help clean their homes and rescue those still alive. This is why my colleagues in Medair and I have been working in Beirut in the past days to clear rubble, assess needs and provide emergency shelter assistance.
Beirut needs us. Today, standing amidst the destruction, I witnessed the tragedy that will be written in history books; books that will talk about a nation that suffered all kinds of grief and pain. Yet, a nation that never and will never, ever, give up.
Medair has launched a $3 million emergency response, focused on immediate and urgent needs for shelter and psychological first aid. We have taken responsibility for one of the most heavily-damaged neighbourhoods, Gemmayze, which is known as the ‘heart of Beirut’. This disaster is compounding the suffering of people in Lebanon who already face huge economic downturn and the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Your gift today can help bring urgent relief to those suffering in Lebanon right now. Please donate today.