The young people want a complete reset

In 2012, Eddie Bitar founded Live Love Beirut with two friends. The organisation's office is a spacious co-working area in a modern building complex just a few streets from where Jouni lives. According to 36-year-old Bitar, his organisation wants to improve people's lives. It organises projects in the fields of environmental protection, education and culture.

Lebanon, a state in crisis: Eddie Bitar, one of the founders of Live Love Beirut (photo: Andrea Backhaus)
Eddie Bitar, one of the founders of Live Love Beirut: "The 30-second explosion caused almost as much destruction as 15 years of civil war," he says. Every month since the blast, over 4,000 people call the organisation asking for help. "The government has abandoned the people"

After the explosion, his team put together an emergency committee. No less than 140 people are involved: some are employed, many work for free, most are under the age of 25. Some of them had just graduated from university and were looking for a job; others gave up their jobs to work at Live Love Beirut. "They felt more needed here," says Bitar. Initially, they distributed food, baby food or medicine to those affected by the blast. Then they also launched a reconstruction programme.

"The 30-second explosion caused almost as much destruction as 15 years of civil war," says Bitar. Every month since the blast, over 4,000 people call the organisation asking for help. "The government has abandoned the people," he says. "For 40 years, the same people have been in power and they are not looking after the people." Above all, it is the young people who want to change things, he says. They want a political system with democratic and transparent structures and without corruption and exploitation. This gives him hope.

"Things are really dire now" – Sandra Klat of NGO Bassma

"The politicians have billions and do nothing," says Sandra Klat from the organisation Bassma, which is based in the Beirut district of Badaro. Klat founded Bassma in 2002 with the aim of helping disadvantaged families. Her team distributes food packages, provides training courses and helps people look for jobs. After the explosion, the team spent weeks in the affected districts recording the damage caused by the blast.

Now a group of architects and civil engineers are repairing damaged roofs or facades. Since the port blast, the Bassma team has repaired the homes of about 100 particularly poor people. The work is funded by private donors. "People trust NGOs because they know that the money is going to the needy," says Klat.

Over the years, she says, the situation for many Lebanese people has deteriorated; but the politicians weren't interested. "Things are really dire now." Prices have skyrocketed while the value of the Lebanese pound has plummeted: it's now worth almost nothing. Many people can afford neither food nor medicine, she says. Every day, people in urgent need of help call Bassma. People like Elie Ghayth.

Hoping for help from God

Ghayth lives in one of the poorer Christian districts of Beirut; his house is at the end of a small side street. Ghayth is 61 years of age, a small bald man with glasses. He lives with his brother and two sisters in a two-room flat. Many windows in the house were destroyed. He has done some makeshift repairs, using wooden planks to cover a hole in the wall. Two people from Bassma have come today to measure the window frames so that they can fit new panes. Ghayth is the only one of the siblings with a job; his income is all they have. For 35 years, he says, he has been working for the government, taking home less than €700 a month. He's a jack-of-all-trades, he says, repairing roads and the like. "If they need me, they call me." He is exhausted, he says, adding that he no longer feels safe since the explosion. He has gloomy thoughts; one day merges into the next. How does he manage to carry on? "I pray every day," he replies. "I hope God will help me."

Salha Khalaf Mohamed with two of her children in their bedroom. The explosion destroyed the bed frame, now they sleep on mattresses on the floor (photo: Andrea Backhaus)
Syrian refugee Salha Khalaf Mohamed says they fled the war in Syria to live in safety in Lebanon. "But now we don't feel safe anymore. We don't know where we should go." They can't go back to Syria, but the route to Europe is just too difficult. "We are stuck here"

When the two people from Bassma walk down the street after leaving Ghayth's house, they are easily recognisable because of their bright vests with the organisation's logo. Over and over, they are stopped by local residents telling them of damage to their flats, furniture that has been destroyed, broken sanitary facilities.

Salha Khalaf Mohamed approaches the two people from Bassma and asks them to take a look at the damage in her flat. She is 44 years of age and lives with her husband and five children in a flat on the top floor of a corner house. They fled here from Aleppo in Syria in 2013. It has never been easy in Lebanon, she says. He husband got work as a day labourer, but what he earned was barely enough to buy the bare necessities. At the moment, he is out of work.

"We're stuck here"

"The explosion only made everything worse," says Mohamed. The family was in the flat when the blast rocked the city. The shock wave broke the bed frame, the sink and almost every one of the windows. They all still struggle with the consequences, she says. The children are restless and uneasy and can't sleep. Her 16-year-old son has epilepsy. It didn't trouble him for years, but he has started having attacks again since 4 August. He works in a shisha bar and tries to keep going. "The family relies on what he earns," says Mohamed. They fled the war in Syria, she says, to live in safety in Lebanon. "But now we don't feel safe anymore. We don't know where we should go." They can't go back to Syria, but the route to Europe is just too difficult. "We are stuck here."

Jouni knows well how it feels to have no prospects. He says he would like to get out of Lebanon – to Europe more than anywhere else. "But who wants to take in an invalid?" he says. So he hopes he will soon be able to drive taxi again. Maybe his right leg will get better. Sometimes, he says, he forgets that he can't walk any more. When that happens, he tries to put his feet on the floor. But when he then sees the stump where his leg used to be, it hits him like a hammer. Jouni says he would give everything to have his old life back. "Even though it was difficult as it was."

Andrea Backhaus

© Qantara.de 2020

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

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