Lebanon ‘Our Homes are Open’
The Day after the massive explosion in Beirut, residents were surveying the damage to their homes.
One video shared online showed 78-year-old Beirut resident May Melki playing the piano in what appears to be her destroyed living room. Her entire home is damaged: furniture in disarray, shattered glass everywhere, curtains ripped apart.
Images and videos out of Beirut show that buildings closest to the port, the center of the explosion, were completely levelled. Many buildings further away from the blast that remained standing were damaged and simply not safe to live in.
The governor of Beirut, Marwan Abboud, said up to 300,000 people lost their homes. He said the government is working to find them shelter.
But in the meantime, a grassroots campaign has taken shape. People in Lebanon are offering up their homes to strangers in need.
Some are using the hashtag #??????_??????, which means “our homes are open.”
One group that used to map all the recent protests in Lebanon switched its work to focus on all the available shelters.
“I decided to take a personal initiative and offer my second house in the mountains far away from Beirut for people who got affected by this explosion [on Tuesday],” 29-year-old Ihab Kraidly told The World over a WhatsApp call.
Kraidly said his house in the countryside had been sitting empty for the past four months and so after the blast, he decided to offer it to those in need. A couple responded to his message online, he said.
“They told me that the damage [to their home] was horrible and it was not a place to stay even for one night.”
Kraidly added that the idea of opening up one’s home to strangers in need is nothing new in Lebanon. In fact, his family stayed with others back in 2006, during the war with Israel, because Beirut wasn’t safe, he said.
“They invited us over and when we decided to leave because the war nearly ended, they said, ‘Stay for another two or three weeks.’ People here are unified, you know?”
For Wajih Chbat, owner of The Chbat Hotel, providing shelter was a no-brainer. Chbat offered up six rooms in his hotel, which is located about an hour and a half outside Beirut.
“My offer was for all the people who are old, poor, they are welcome to the hotel on a full board basis,” he said, meaning that they got a place to stay and free food.
“You need to support people without thinking of money,” he said.
Soon after Chbat sent out his message, people started showing up in taxis. Some of them were injured, he said, and they came directly from the hospital.
Chbat’s business has been struggling ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit, he explained. He used to get a lot of tourists, but all that dried up. As the news of the Beirut blast spread across the globe, he said, he received phone calls from donors in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Australia who wanted to send money.
“But I did not accept [the donations] because I still have money to spend. Let them send it to people who don’t have money. When I need money, I’ll see what I will do,” Chbat said.
Christina Malkoun, a 24-year-old engineering student, said she sent out messages about two rooms that she has available 15 minutes outside the city. She heard from two women, one who has two small children and another who has no relatives in Lebanon. They ended up staying in other places closer to where they were, Malkoun said, but she is keeping the post up on social media in case there are others who need it.
“I’m trying to help with whatever I can. That’s all I can offer for now,” she said.
Since the blast, it seems everyone is trying to step up and help out any way they can, said Cynthia Saab, an interior consultant for a furniture and fabrics company in Lebanon called Skaff. Her company is offering to donate free fabric to cover up the windows that were broken in the blast.
“We are hearing from many people who really need help,” she said. “The glass in Beirut is all shattered, and for people to contact a glass company, this is going to take a while, especially with this overload.”
Saab went through the inventory to see how much fabric they have available and told The World that the company will send out a team to measure the windows sizes and to install the fabrics.
Rebuilding Beirut will be long and painful, Malkoun said. At the moment, people are taking matters into their own hands, she added. Volunteers are helping with search and rescue of victims from under the rubble. They are collecting food and clothes donations to distribute in Beirut.
“The contributions they’re making right now are much better than the contributions any political leader has made throughout the last decade,” Malkoun said. “It’s really heartwarming to see the people come together right now.” n
Written by Shirin Jaafari