American Univesity of Beirut

On the ground volunteers: A testimony from an FAS faculty member

​​​​On August 4, 2020 Beirut witnessed a devastating explosion that left the city and its citizens in utter shock.

The civic society reacted instantly to support the injured and affected. Driven by solidarity and compassion, thousands of volunteers mobilized to support relief initiatives. One of those volunteers was Dr. Claire Malleson, assistant professor at the Department of History and Archaeology, at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. 

She was among the first volunteers who rushed to help the Center of Civic Engagement and Community Service at AUB (CCECS).

“I signed up for the AUB CCECS volunteer team as soon as I saw the call for people and joined the team in Geitawi.  They clearly acted immediately to set this up," Dr. Malleson said.

A number of AUB staff and faculty joined the teams, and the CCECS response to the horrific crisis was remarkable. “The number of volunteers was amazing, so many AUB students, many of whom travelled to Beirut from outside (e.g. Tripoli) in order to come and help, all full of energy and a keen desire to help anyone they could. The CCECS staff are some of the most motivated, dedicated, professional and compassionate people I have met at AUB – very inspiring," she added.

The center quickly adjusted the focus of work to what was most needed by the communities in the area they were working, Dr. Malleson said: “from the outset I was really impressed with the way the center was organizing their efforts, coordinating so many people and reaching out to help so many affected families clean up the damage in their apartments."

The work done by the CCECS teams included sweeping up shattered glass (to be collected for recycling), helping remove splintered and torn wooden and metal window frames and doors, sorting to keep the things that could be repaired and re-used, and helping clear up the debris of people's belongings that had been flung across rooms by the shockwave of the explosion. In addition to installing nylon sheeting for windows and doors as a temporary measure, the technical teams started assessing the repairs needed. CCECS also collaborated with psychology professionals on-call for immediate mental health support.

“I offered to lend a hand in any way I could, in the office as well as on-site, and helped out with some basic organization jobs working with the CCECS team in their AUB center – which had suffered some damage in the explosion. The following week, I assisted in managing the volunteer teams and equipment, based at the tent (the team's “base camp") in Geitawi then Karantina," Dr. Malleson said.

Rabih Shibli, the director of CCECS said: “This tragedy brought out the best of the AUB community spirit. Claire exemplified this compassion in a moment of profound humanitarian crisis,that in the end is all about people and their trauma stories."


Dr. Claire Malleson joined AUB in 2018 as an assistant professor at the Department of History and Archeology. She received her MA (2005) and PhD (2012) in archaeology from the University of Liverpool, and later spent five and a half years working on numerous excavations in Egypt as an archaeobotanist, and as director of archaeological science for Ancient Egypt Research Associates at the Giza Pyramids (http://www.aeraweb.org/). Her PhD was published in spring 2019 “The Fayum Landscape. Ten thousand years of archaeology, texts and traditions in Egypt" (American University in Cairo Press) https://aucpress.com/product/the-fayum-landscape/. She has contributed to popular magazines  (https://rawi-magazine.com/articles/pyramidbuilders-2/), and published in highly acclaimed archaeology journals.

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