Beginning of a beautiful friendship between Lebanese and French volunteers.
Since the double explosion of August 4 that devastated the port of Beirut and the surrounding neighborhoods, volunteers have been mobilized in the streets, schools, fire stations of Beirut to help the Lebanese in cleaning and clearing the damage. That day, as they have just left the workcamp of the School of Wisdom, they are getting ready to meet a committed Lebanese youth who, despite the crisis, decided to take action.
"A few days after the explosion, as we have just left the School of Wisdom with shovel, brooms and helmet in hand, we are tired, exhausted and thirsty. We comfort each other: "Come on, cheer up... only a few more meters before going home, where fresh water is waiting for us!”
Miraculously, like an oasis in the middle of the desert, I see in the distance a "Nation Station" stand offering food and drink to the volunteers!
A young brunette, who seems to be a volunteer just like me, calls out to me "Y3tik el3afieh" (May God repay you), an expression used here when people help us, to which I answer "Allah y Rafiq" (Also to you).
I take my bottle of water, a long-awaited first sip that I savor while talking with Lama, the Lebanese volunteer who gave it to me.
"Nation Station offers hot food, food packs, and clothing to the victims of the explosion and anyone else in need. It was created only two days after the tragic event, by two friends, Hussein and John, in a disused gas station, in order to regain control of, as they say, "our abandoned population.”
It all started with Hussein Kazoun, a young farmer, who offered to give his fruits and vegetables to feed the poorest. The movement quickly gained momentum. They have fruits and vegetables, mouths to feed but not enough volunteers. In turn, John Achkar, a famous Lebanese humorist, relays the information and calls for volunteers on social networks. Very quickly he is heard! Volunteers and donations are pouring in, so much so that the fame of the "Nation Station" goes beyond the borders. A few days ago, the New York Times devoted an article to it.
Lama introduces me to a group of young people who seem to be old friends, but appearances are deceiving because in reality they have only known each other for a few days.
A first team of about ten volunteers, with a smile on their face, is in charge of distributing hot food, hundreds of dishes prepared by caterers. A little further on, a young girl, Sarah, lends herself completely to the game of sales advisor to the needy. I feel like I'm in a real clothing store where these people who are going through a difficult time can relax.
She insists: "Madam that will suit you" while grasping the garment. She sees a suit jacket that she hands to a man: "I thought of you sir when I saw it, take it!”
At the back of the station, in a cool place are stored hundreds of crates of fresh fruits and vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, apples, pears, etc. just waiting to be eaten.
Four young volunteers are packing bags of food to be distributed directly afterwards to families in need. I smile when I see myself a few days ago doing the same operation with the volunteers of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient, when we were finishing our 1,500 bags of food donation, in the same atmosphere.
A team of several young people, backpacks sheets of paper and pens in hand, are getting ready to leave to visit the families in order to evaluate materially and psychologically the extent of the damage caused by the explosion. In many ways, we are so much like them.
I thank Lama for this visit and congratulate them for what they are doing, to which she replies: "It's my turn to thank you, thank you for helping my country.”
Today, the volunteers of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient and those of Nation Station have created very beautiful ties. We are happy every morning when our head of mission announces a departure to "Nation Station". We know that we are going to see our friends, new volunteers and that we are going to help directly in the heart of the neighborhoods most affected by the explosion.
A day at Nation Station is never the same, and that's what we like, because the day's missions depend so much on daily needs and donations. Sometimes we start the day by unloading trucks of fresh fruits and vegetables, then pack these products in bags and distribute them directly to the people in need, who come to pick them up, all smiles, and who never stop thanking us, warmly, first in Arabic, then a second time when they understand that we are French.
When the donations of clothes arrive, Sarah, the person in charge of the stand, gives us the instructions to sort them by category and size before placing them on the tables, as in a real small store.
At the opening, crowds gather; one volunteer is in charge of distributing hydro-alcoholic gel and providing masks to those who don't have any, while another enforces barrier gestures and social distancing.
I usually stay by Sarah's side to assist her and provide clothing advice to our visitors. A task that turns out to be rather simple to accomplish as I participated in the sorting this morning. A little girl discreetly approaches me. She must be one of all those families who, if they don't lose everything during the explosion, are living in great poverty because of the current crisis. I don't let myself be dismantled and hand her a dress that I sorted out an hour ago. She accepts it, smiles and thanks me. Her eyes say a lot about her gratitude and her newfound joy.
While the "clothing team" starts this day on a high note, another one under the direction of Lama is getting ready to visit the families. French and Lebanese, in groups of four, start the mission with joy. Direction one of the devastated districts of Beirut where many poor families live. From the outside, there is nothing to suggest that these dilapidated walls are home to poor people and yet! Here, only a few steps away from the port, the economic lung of Lebanon, we meet an elderly woman living with her husband. For her, we are the "angels of Lebanon", those who watch over the Lebanese people who have nothing and ask for nothing.
These visits always move us and allow us to question ourselves. In view of what they face with such faith and strength, my problems of daily life seem quite futile to me.
Thus this mother, who was left penniless after the explosion, kindly declined our food package, saying: "Please give it to someone else. There must be people who need it more than I do.” With tears in her eyes, she finally accepted the few food packages before showing them to her children.
Every day, we are motivated by the knowledge that we will see the fruit of our efforts and the journey, from the first cucumber box we unload, to bagging it, to handing it over in person. Helping to put a smile back on the faces of those who have lost everything means so much to us as volunteers.
I invite you to support other projects like this one, you who cannot join us there.
Lucie, volunteer in Lebanon.