Sadly, among the many anniversary dates mourned in the Lebanese calendar, now lies a spot for Tuesday 4 August 2020.
Just after 6pm on 4 August, two huge blasts shook the seaside capital of Lebanon. The first blast’s power was so immense that it generated seismic waves, equivalent to a 4.5 magnitude earthquake that were felt 240 kilometres away in Cyprus. The second sent a massive red mushroom cloud over the city. The subsequent shockwave from the blast tore across Beirut, knocking people off their feet and throwing them across their living rooms and bedrooms, flipping over cars, blowing out entire windows and doors in homes and businesses, leaving debris strewn everywhere and so many buildings with scars of a missile-like attack, causing damage to practically everything within a 10km radius.
The catastrophic Beirut blast, together with Lebanon’s recent economic and banking collapse, revolt against a corrupt government, dysfunctional political system and COVID-19, inflicted a massive toll on the country, opening the world’s eyes to the extent of the devastation and humanitarian crisis that has been unfolding there for some time. A year on my heart still aches for Beirut. There was and remains a prevailing atmosphere of anger, fear and uncertainty in the country since the blast.
Not surprisingly in the aftermath of the Beirut blast, it was the famous resilience of the Lebanese people that shone - the rapid response by NGO’s and spontaneous neighbourhood initiatives to address acute needs of impacted city residents. So many stories of strength, too numerous to re-count. But not just any strength, the kind from which hope emerges – hope for the future from a collective realisation that while resilience is great, it’s time for change, to build sustainability, national responsibility and accountability.
I want to reflect today on how, thanks to positive influencers in our world like popular YouTuber Anthony Rayahel, it’s possible for hope to emerge even from the most devastating of tragedies. Anthony’s office was severely damaged in the Beirut blast. Astonishingly, he went to Port Beirut the next day and filmed what he saw. His videos of the destruction are emotional and raw but at the same time inspire hope. In one video he meets a Lebanese family. He greets the family’s father by saying “hamdellah ala salameh” meaning, “glad you are ok”. The father responds smiling, “Thank you Anthony, we love watching your videos, my wife is a huge fan and would love to meet you.” Anthony is in disbelief at how this lovely man is smiling despite being injured and despite his daughter’s shop being destroyed in the blast. Anthony goes on to commend the man for being able to smile at such a terrible time. The man’s response is “Anthony, aren’t you the one always telling us that Lebanon is one of the most beautiful places on Earth? You give us hope for a better tomorrow and you warm our hearts every day with your videos, you inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves we can be no matter the struggles and to keep going, which is why we only watch you now and don’t watch the news anymore, you should be our Tourism Minister. If it weren’t for you, we would have left the country long ago.”
It was not till some weeks later I found out that this wonderful man’s name was Mr. Mrad, father of famous young Lebanese fashion designer Sara Mrad. And while I shed a few tears watching that video, importantly, I gained a sense of hope. I gained a hope so strong that it’s transformed me somewhat because when I look at the world around me now, I choose to see the good in people and I choose to take the path that enables me to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I believe more than ever this is the only way to keep that hope in a better tomorrow alive.
Thanks to this series of events, I was lucky to connect with the Mrad family. I was compelled to reach out to them after seeing that video. I was moved by their strength and courage. I also share their huge love and admiration for Anthony and for all he does for Lebanon. Through a very small act of giving, i was able to help them get access to the repairs needed for their business after they shared with me how much they were struggling to get assistance. The Mrad family are my newfound friends. It could not be more true, the smallest act of kindness can make such a big difference to people's lives. Good begets good and kindness and giving have such positive impacts on us and the world around us. Thank you to the positive influencers of our world for making it possible for happy stories like this to emerge from the Beirut tragedy. A story of hope born from tragedy.