World Humanitarian Day in Beirut: 'For me, work should have a sense of purpose ' - CARE
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World Humanitarian Day in Beirut: 'For me, work should have a sense of purpose '

Four women in CARE face mask speak to a seated man.

Patricia (third from right) and her CARE colleagues at a food distribution site in Beirut days after the August 4 explosions that destroyed the city's port. Photo: Milad Ayoub/CARE Lebanon

Patricia (third from right) and her CARE colleagues at a food distribution site in Beirut days after the August 4 explosions that destroyed the city's port. Photo: Milad Ayoub/CARE Lebanon

When a life-altering disaster strikes, how does a humanitarian worker find the strength to go on?

When the explosion in Beirut happened, we thought it was a plane, a rocket attack. So we went to the corridor like we used to do in the war. We heard two blasts then it ended, so we went out.

I live in Beirut, 3.5 km from the port (where the explosion happened), near a hospital. I saw people with blood running into the hospital. The neighborhood was full of broken glass. It was full of people who were weeping and crying in the street: “My neighbors…”

I took a taxi to the port area. I was among the first to get there. The closest neighborhood to the port is a gentrified area with pubs and restaurants. The neighborhood also has many old people who don’t have a lot of money left. The area hit by the blast is among the poorest in Beirut.

When I got there, there were still people under the rubble, still people searching for their loved ones. This area was built with the port, so it is one of the oldest of the city with many buildings from the 19th century. I am afraid we will lose a lot of the old buildings and the city won’t be the same. I pass by these areas at least three times a day, I have so many memories there.

“I need to feel that the work I do is useful for others. So now I have the chance through my work and my knowledge to support Lebanon, my country. And this gives me a sense of purpose.”

When I saw the destruction, I thought to myself, the city is gone and tomorrow morning there will be no Beirut. And I kept asking myself, when you don’t have a city, where do you go? I still ask myself this question. When you lose your city, where do you go? How do you survive?

I am from Beirut, and I lived there during the war in the Lebanese capital. I always felt like every stone in Beirut as well as the sea belongs to me, because it’s my city. Now it doesn’t exist anymore. Even though we’ve been through a war, we never had this kind of destruction.

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Now it’s like when you mourn someone – I am mourning my city. I’m angry, sad, still in shock and I cannot cry.

The first five days we were all in shock. Then I started calling friends and acquaintances to see if they were OK. I started hearing every day that somebody I know is dead or wounded. I have a colleague whose grandmother and uncle were buried under the rubble, but they were found alive. Almost everyone knows someone who has died or been wounded. It’s a small city, Beirut, and this disaster has happened in my neighborhood.

One-third of people who died are Syrians. Migrant workers also died. Can you imagine if you were fleeing the war in Syria, and you end up dying in rubble in Lebanon? Or that you came to Lebanon to work, leaving your family behind, because you desperately need the money to survive and then you die in a blast?

I think that you feel guilty because you survived – when they tell you there are 6,000 wounded, and you know it’s not just wounded, they are heavily injured. And you know deep down that it could have been you, but you were lucky to survive.

My only reflex when things are bad is to work. For me, as a humanitarian and a journalist, it’s very important. Somebody has to witness and to tell the stories of people, so they won’t be forgotten.

In my job with CARE International, I have to tell the story, put people in contact, be useful and contribute by the things I am doing to raise funds for Lebanon. The people need everything – help with food, schools for children, cash for rent, help and materials to rebuild and repair homes before winter. I’m going to the field nearly every day – all I see is destruction and poverty that started to strike Lebanon 10 months ago and has been worsening with every passing week. And we need to create jobs to get people on their feet again.

CARE International has been responding from the beginning, within 40 hours after the blast the organization had already mobilized. We have Lebanese partner organizations with whom we are distributing food. We have many projects in the pipeline: a project for migrant workers, and providing cash to people in need – all working alongside our local Lebanese organizations.

Lebanese people are courageous and strong. From the second or third day, people came from all over the country, to pull up the rubble. They came with food. I’m proud to see all this courage and, solidarity; proud but very sad.

We always counted on ourselves, especially during the war, but in this disaster, we cannot do it on our own.

For me, work should have a sense of purpose. It depends of the purpose you choose. I like to tell stories and can’t tolerate injustice – whether I am in Lebanon or abroad.

And despite all the ugly things we can experience or witness, I still believe in human beings. But, of course, working in Lebanon, helping support my city and my fellow citizens gives all this work a different – larger – dimension.

I always wanted a job with a purpose. I’ve always been a journalist and later a communication consultant for international institutions. I need to feel that the work I do is useful for others. So now I have the chance through my work and my knowledge to support Lebanon, my country. And this gives me a sense of purpose. So please help me support my country. Donate to help the Lebanese people get back on their feet.