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 The Presbyterian Church in Canada • ISSUE 16, WINTER 2020
Helping Hands After the Beirut Blast
 By the Joint Christian Committee for Social Service in Lebanon
Young eyes turned to Elias Habib. The Joint Christian Committee (JCC) Youth Leader looked at about 20 youths standing before him. Shock was written all over their faces. Their hillside mountain Palestinian residences, known as the Dbayeh Camp, shook with the blast that rav- aged Beirut’s port and its surround- ings when a large amount of am- monium nitrate, stored at the port, exploded on Aug. 4, 2020. Over 180 people died, 6,000 were injured, and an estimated 300,000 homes were heavily damaged. Considered one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history, the blast was felt in Turkey, Syria and Cyprus, which is more than 250 km away. In Dbayeh, only 11 km away, buildings shook ferociously as the deafen- ing sound drove people out of their homes in panic. News soon reached them, however, that the explosion took place at the port. In less than an hour, Habib was already calling on his youth group to get ready. “Brooms, gloves, masks,” he men- tally listed.
“For now,” he explained to them as they gathered in the JCC library later that evening, “we will be help-
The Joint Christian Committee youth group in Lebanon.
ing in the cleaning efforts. Until we can help with the repairs, we will be covering their windows with nylon. Be ready when I call you.”
Habib paused. As a foreman on
many construction sites and as someone who grew up in the vicious Lebanese 16-year civil war, Habib could forecast what awaited them. But this youth group, aged from 16
to 24, had yet to see such ferocious destruction or, even worse, feel the misery of the injured ones.
Never theless, a few days later, the JCC located and settled in a small destroyed restaurant in the Mar Mikhael neighbourhood, just one of several areas in the Ashrafieh region affected by the blast. They cleared out the debris and set up base. They soon joined the hundreds of volunteers who descended on the devastated areas, sweeping glass shards, setting aside torn doors and windows, and scrubbing blood off walls and floors. Since Lebanese government officials were absent in the field, it was up to the volunteers to help the distraught victims and salvage whatever they could from the debris.
It was an overwhelming and emotional task, but aware that his youth group was watching his every move, Habib grabbed a thick bristled broom and matter-of-factly began to
sweep one of the devastated homes. The youths quietly followed suit.
As they made their way into yet another home, hills of glass, cement and wood debris welcomed them— the remnants of a living room. In the corner was what looked like a dining room table hinged on one leg that threatened to collapse any second. The walls, once adorned with photo- graphs and paintings, stood severe- ly chipped and cracked. In the midst stood a woman, in her late 60s or thereabouts. She looked at the JCC group and attempted a small wel- coming smile. But the shadow of the smile soon disappeared and was replaced by a forlorn distant look.
Habib approached her gently. “Is there a specific room you would like us to concentrate on?” he asked quietly. The woman nodded and led him to a small room, just off the living room area. “This is my sis- ter’s room,” she said. Like the rest
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  Sylvia Haddad and Rudolph, the son of the Dbayeh camp director.
Founded in 1950, the Joint Christian Committee for Social Service in Lebanon (JCC) is based in Beirut, and serves four communities: in Dbayeh, Saida, Sabra and Tyre. Their mandate is to empower Palestinians of any age and gender with the knowledge and skills to be self-reliant. They focus on education, vocational training, advocacy and activities that are fun and encourage dignity. Palestinians are often treated as second-class residents in Lebanon, restricted from working in most fields, banned from owning property, forced to live in crowded camps and barred from formal education.
Sylvia Haddad is the tireless Director of JCC and has her own experience of displacement. The programs aim to preserve Palestinian identity, heritage and culture. Through International Ministries, the PCC has been a partner with JCC since 2015.
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