That exact moment: Beirut a month later
Baraa Shkeir works in the Media, Advocacy and Communications team with Save the Children in Beirut, Lebanon
Can our lives be summed in minutes? Can one moment change the course of our lives?
A full month has passed since the explosion at Beirut port that killed 190 people, injured thousands and left 100,000 children without home. One month on, I still remember that exact moment.
I was sitting on the edge of my bed with my laptop and, in mere seconds, I felt what I thought then was an earthquake. Not a second later, I was on the ground crawling my way to the door, away from the flying pieces of glass and debris. What followed were murky details in my mind, yet I remember the petrified looks on strangers’ faces, as I felt them on my own.
From heart-racing to numbness to grief. That’s how the next day was spent, grieving the souls lost. Beirut was now a city covered in ashes. People’s lives and dreams shattered in a matter of moments.
A COUNTRY SHAKEN TO THE CORE
Just as any nation, hope for a better tomorrow tends to lie on the shoulders of the coming generation. But in a country plagued not only with the unprecedented COVID-19 virus, the most serious economic crisis to date, political unrest and the collapse of the economy, and now what is considered one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history, how will that be?
How can one remove those terrible moments from the young minds?
View of a street in Karantina area of Beirut, which was damaged in the explosion, Lebanon
“IF WE DON’T WHO WILL?”
Within a couple of days, Save the Children’s teams in Lebanon switched into an emergency mode. We began to assess, support and respond to affected families and children on the spot.
Part of Save the Children emergency response was to open child friendly spaces in affected areas for children to come and enjoy a bit of respite with their friends. Our Shelter teams assessed damaged houses and provided kits to secure windows and restore some privacy to the bare rooms and balconies. Over the past four weeks we have reached around 20,000 families with hot meals, psychological first aid, and shelter kits.
My first visit to the blast site was filled with apprehension. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do my job or hold back my emotions. I kept a mantra, “if we don’t, who will? If I don’t give them the voice will they remain an echo?”
With emotions in check, I listened to children and adults recall that ill-fated moment. In a space reserved for children’s laughter and squealing, only few were heard. Parents fear for their precious ones’ mental and physical wellbeing, and the predominant fear for their future.
BLACK, WHITE AND ORANGE
On the wall, proudly sits two Lebanese flags, one with bright red, white and green, and next to it, one with black, white and orange.
“My son drew the flag in black and orange,” said Aya*. “As if he, unconsciously, was portraying the explosion. That worried me. I asked him about it, he said he just felt like it and that likes the colours.”
Since school closures due to the COVID-19 crisis and amid the grave economic crisis, families have been suffering, some teetering on the survival threshold, while others plunged into poverty. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education estimates that more than 85,000 children have had their 159 public and private schools extensively damaged in the blast. This added to pressure on parents and schools as education is now on the line. Children across Lebanon and particularly in Beirut are at risk of losing their education and academic year, again. “My dream is to leave this country,” says 7-year-old Abir* with determination as her young brother wipes away her tears.
“My dream is to continue my education. Our education is our key to success, I don’t want to lose my future.”
Children in Lebanon are at risk. Whether it’s a pandemic, poverty, and now traumatising events, Lebanese children have witnessed a gruelling year and it’s yet to be over. The upcoming months are crucial as the academic year approaches. Yet hope rises with every child’s smile and laughter, with every determined mother and father raging against the dying of the light.