On 4 August 2020, an explosion of a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of the city of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, caused at least 218 deaths, 7,500 injuries, and left an estimated 300,000 people homeless. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the damage sustained in their own premises, the YMCA Lebanon team stepped up to support the victims, their families and their communities.
Before the explosion, YMCA Lebanon was dispensing medication to more than 200,000 patients all over the country with chronic illnesses, through 450 Primary Health Care Centers. “After the blast”, shares Tony El Mir, YMCA Lebanon Operations Manager, “we had to improvise with what we had. The staff team allocated for development, livelihood and protection work organised the support unit for the Achrafieh area in Beirut, and started mobilizing youth volunteers from Bekaa and the outlying areas of the capital”.
YMCA Lebanon faced many challenges that required rapid and targeted responses:
- The constant restriction on mobility due to COVID-19 made it difficult to schedule YMCA programmes and activities
- There was an urgent need to develop the capacity of workers and youth volunteers on emergency responsiveness
- YMCA volunteers started developing signs of distress and anxiety, with symptoms such as sudden bursts of anger and extreme tiredness. The team organised a psychological support programme and a wellbeing camp for volunteers to find safe spaces to express their grief and fears.
The situation was so new and exceptional that YMCA Lebanon wanted to do things carefully: “There was a fear of doing harm through our initiatives”, says Tony El Mir. “So we worked with a “Do No Harm” specialist and conducted training for our volunteers and peers from different organizations.”
One year after the blast in Beirut
Many people have lost their assets, jobs and lives, and Lebanon is suffering from a prolonged economic crisis. “People in Beirut are still in recovery mode, a year after the blast”, says Mr El Mir. “Lebanese people have endured – but at a heavy price mentally, financially and even existentially.”
Today, YMCA Lebanon is supporting people living in severe poverty due to the blast through small seeded funds. Many YMCAs such as World YMCA, YMCA Hong Kong, Y USA and YMCA Finland have supported YMCA Lebanon with donations.
They have also launched two initiatives. The first is to promote resilience and enhanced livelihoods of vulnerable young people and Syrian refugees in Lebanon, through skills development, with a special focus on women and people living with disabilities. The second is to improve the ecosystem of social entrepreneurship in Bekaa, to accompany young people who want to create a business or a micro business.
On 4 August 2021, the whole country, including the YMCA Lebanon office, marks the sad anniversary of the blast. It will pause to remember… and then it will go on with the many-faceted rebuilding which it has carried out in the 12 months since the fateful day of the explosion.
- Testimony of Sonia, a beneficiary
- Testimony of Ahmad El Khatib, one of the YMCA Lebanon young leaders who supported the affected families
Previous web articles
- YMCA Lebanon continues to help rebuild lives (6 January 2021)
- Beirut: working against time and weather (29 September 2020)
- Beirut: YMCA supporting families in coming back home (3 September 2020)
- Young people supporting their communities in Beirut (11 August 2020)
- YMCA Lebanon staff safe but in shock (5 August 2020)