American Univesity of Beirut

Beirut Recovery Project kicks off for quick impact and relief

​​​​​​​​Safa Jafari Safa, Office of Communications​​​,​​​ ​​

On the night of August 5, 2020, a call for volunteers was made on social media by AUB’s Center for Civic Engagement and Communi​ty Service (CCECS). Between 11:00 pm and midnight, a thousand volunteers were ready to serve the blast-devastated parts of the Lebanese capital. The “Beirut Recovery Project” was born.

That morning, the day after Beirut’s catastrophic explosion, AUB members were amongst the first to mobilize for aid. CCECS staff rushed to the explosion site. The site was shut, with broken glass and rubble everywhere. The staff headed to their office, also destroyed, to pull resources, set a plan, and call for volunteers. 

By next morning, 300 of the 1,000 volunteers that registered the night before were divided into teams of coordinators and registrants to work first  in Mar Mikhael and Jeitawi areas, closest to the explosion site. Tents were set up in both areas and all were given kits of head protecting gear, masks, goggles, and gloves, along with brooms, shovels, buckets, and woven sacks. 

The immediate goal was relief and recovery. Quick impact was a priority. There was no time to waste.

Volunteers were committed to this goal from all over Lebanon and from every direction: students, faculty, and alumni; young and old; local and international; AUB and non-AUB community members went to the tents and joined efforts with their trusted AUB teammates to manage the recovery process.

The group of volunteers was split into teams of seven workers and a coordinator, and they took off to clean up over the first two days. With brooms and shovels in their hands, the volunteers walked amongst rubble, house to house, to check on the people who stayed in their homes and help them clean up their houses from broken glass, concrete, shutters, and house items. As some people affected by the explosion had to leave their homes to stay elsewhere, their houses were left untouched. 

The next step for them was to buy plastic sheets to cover open window frames that had their glass broken, as the homes were left exposed otherwise.

The cleanup sight is expanding as the teams of volunteers are advancing in size and organization. So far, the project has continued to also clean up Karantina area.

Expert volunteers, including architects and engineers, roamed around with forms in their hands, mapping the areas, gathering information about the basic needs to be catered to in order to resume life in those homes, and ensuring that further collaboration and follow up will take place. Needs included fixing tanks and pipes to ensure water supply, batteries and needed extensions, florescent bulbs, and wooden doors so the houses are not left exposed.

Currently the teams are making sure that the houses are livable and secure for their tenants to stay in them.  Upon filling the surveys, the teams return to their meeting point—in CCECS destroyed offices that have turned into storage, operation, and planning rooms—as volunteers enter the data, call volunteers, plan, and prepare supplies and equipment for the next day. 

“This will be a multi-year intervention,” head of CCECS Rabih Shibli told us. “The scale of damage is massive and this calls for a long-term commitment from our side. The work is expanding every day and we are progressively planning best and most efficient ways to use all the resources we have.” So far, the team is making do with what they can with the resources and facilities they are gathering. 

The volunteers are working on shift basis from 7:00 am. Through continuous collaboration via a WhatsApp group that was set up for this purpose, they disperse within the different locations, transferring equipment, kits, and food, and continue to clean and fix the homes. By the end of the day, with dust and sweat all over them, they go back to their meeting points and see how best they can help the day after.

“We will continue until the whole area recovers, no matter what,” said Shibli. “We are at very early phases of the relief and we need to make quick impact. No one knows how things will develop, but we are committed and we are taking it one day at a time.”

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