Beirut, Lebanon – After Lama Masri felt the shockwaves of the massive explosion that ripped through Beirut on Tuesday, she knew that people in the city would need help.
“I went immediately to the pharmacy, grabbed a first aid kit and ran to help. When something like this happens, it’s your first instinct – you’re in crisis mode,” the 32-year-old told Al Jazeera.
Masri, a software developer based in Beirut, was among thousands of Lebanese nationals who have been actively taking matters into their own hands to provide aid to those affected by the explosion, which killed 137 people and wounded some 5,000 others according to the government.
“I could see literally at least 60 percent of our population on the streets, helping people, whether they’re organisers or just coming in on their own as volunteers,” she told Al Jazeera.
“I had 11 workers helping out and I’d left for a bit to get them sandwiches. [Since] nothing was open – everything was shattered; some people came out on motorcycles to distribute food,” said Masri. “I ended up with 11 boxes of free food.”
The country has been shaken by multiple crises in recent months. Last October, protesters took to the streets to call for a political overhaul as financial and economic crises worsened in the country.
According to ICRC spokeswoman Rona Halabi, there has been increasing concern that the situation will worsen in the aftermath of the explosion, which devastated the port of Beirut – a vital location for food and aid imports.
“We usually get all our aid through the port, so this may affect our work,” Halabi told Al Jazeera. “But we, of course, are here to provide as much as we can to the families of the victims and the injured.”
Meanwhile, people are coming together as part of volunteer organisations, and even individually, to assist stricken communities. Halabi says providing medical assistance has undoubtedly been critical.
“This city and everyone is shaken to the core,” she said. “Several hospitals are still damaged; the ones that are still working have been overwhelmed [with people] who’ve had injuries. And there’s still a big need of assistance.”
But as hospitals struggled with the influx of wounded people – many had to look for medical treatment elsewhere.
“My colleague was injured with her mother and she went to the hospital in Beirut … They were then able to receive medical support in another hospital because there were more serious injuries that needed those hospital beds,” said Halabi. “A lot of patients were also being treated in parking lots.”
Volunteers who have provided assistance on the ground, like Masri, said they used tweezers to help remove glass pieces from people’s wounds.
“You can’t just sit at home and say, I’m safe here, when others have lost everything. I can’t see devastation and not react,” said Masri.
Campaigns focused on spreading awareness of the situation on the ground have since gained international attention. A large number of charity organisations, like non-profit group Impact Lebanon, have put together fundraisers to respond to the crisis. Several initiatives have also been launched to direct potential donors and volunteers to reliable organisations.
Ghida Beydoun, 22, Dania Kharazi, 20, and Nour Abi Fadel, 19, recently came up with the idea of a platform to help spread awareness about the availability of services catering to those in need.
“We’re creating an Instagram account called VolunteerBeirut outlining the different areas of help,” said Abi Fadel.
“[Its purpose] is to increase equity in the digital space so everyone is aware of current volunteering initiatives, and they can determine how to help as well.”
A student volunteer group focused on environmental clean-up, called GEMs (Green Environment Group) also created a WhatsApp group, to mobilise youth in providing help with recovery efforts in the capital city.
If we haven't turned into ruins, a piece of us has.
Our deepest condolences to the families of martyrs, victims, ones with ruined houses and businesses.
It's not in our hands, but we can still help control minimal damage. pic.twitter.com/L16t8OvpaK
— Green Environment Movement (@GEM_Leb) August 5, 2020
Meanwhile, a Lebanese-American medical student based in Michigan has raised more than $50,000 for medical supplies.
“I started the page in July, [at the time] it was mainly for COVID-19 relief. I spoke to so many people, including mosques, even newspapers, to get donations at the time,” said Majd Faraj, who noticed that his fundraiser gained momentum shortly after the explosion.
“It’s overwhelming, but at the same time it’s so bittersweet that such a disaster like this had to happen in order for people to start donating more.”
Faraj has partnered with the World Medical Relief programme, which plans on sending the first shipments by the end of this week.
“I’ve been getting an abundance of emails from people who I don’t know at all, who are offering medication, supplies or anything like that which is very sweet, because even if they can’t donate physical money, people all over the world have been contacting me to at least try to help somehow [with their own means],” he said.
Up to 300,000 people are estimated to have lost their homes in the explosion and dozens of people have been reported missing. Families have sought to locate loved ones through the help of social media pages, like LocateVictimsBeirut.
Local non-profit organisations like Beit Al Baraka announced that they will be providing assistance to repair homes damaged in the explosion.
Hundreds of social media users in the area have also sought to help those in need of shelter with the hashtag #OurHomesAreOpen, in both English and Arabic.
Others, like Lama Masri, coordinated efforts to get people to immediate shelter.
“We provided 20 apartments for free, [from Beirut to Tripoli] to whoever lost their homes,” she said.
“We assembled a team of about 40 young people who have never really worked in an NGO but have been wanting to do good [for their community] since the thawra [or revolution] started.”
Christopher Nader, a 22-year-old hotel manager, also joined in, transforming his family’s business into a refuge for victims.
“In times like these you can’t think about yourself,” he said. “You can’t think about money, you can’t think about anything else. Seeing these people struggle, and being able to give them a place to stay and a roof to sleep under just makes me feel so good.”
Nader’s family owns two hotels – one located in Beirut and another farther away from the hospital. The location closer to the explosion had been left slightly damaged, but none of his staff or guests had suffered any injuries.
When the explosion hit, Nader began offering free rooms on social media to help victims.
“People are telling me that I’m a hero, but I think the real heroes are those who’ve been on the ground,” he said.
“I feel that it’s my duty to help people in my country. When things like this happen, you don’t think about hate. You don’t think about religion. You just think about love.”