Thinking about the hundreds killed, thousands injured and quarter of a million people instantly made homeless in Beirut on August 4 is devastating. To Monica Abou-Ezzi '16, it's personal, too.
Abou-Ezzi posed for her college graduation with the Lebanese flag. (All the photos in this article are courtesy of Monica Abou-Ezzi).
As the daughter of two parents who grew up in Lebanon, many of her family and friends live in the country, whose capital was crippled by a massive chemical explosion and fire in the city's port. "I have an uncle that works at the port exactly where the explosion occurred," she said during a recent phone conversation from her home in Boston. "Fortunately, he had left work 15 minutes before the blast. His home was destroyed but he and his family are safe. Unfortunately, a lot of his friends died on the scene."
After hearing about the disaster from her uncle — and fearfully calling everybody she knew in Beirut to make sure they weren't harmed — Abou-Ezzi said, "I just thought, 'I wish I could be in Lebanon right now. I wish I could be there to help!'" Then, she remembered stories her father had told her about serving in the Lebanese Red Cross during the country's 1975–1990 civil war and decided to turn her upset into action to aid in her own way, and did her Lebanese friends who immediately took to the streets to clean, deliver food and rebuild post-blast.
The destroyed Port of Beirut.
The very next day, she began collecting donations with her brother and two cousins to send to local charity groups in Beirut helping survivors and providing aid to struggling families. Within 24 hours they raised $28,000. And after expanding efforts to, and with, a large social network of family and friends in the Lebanese community in Massachusetts, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and London, Abou-Ezzi announced, "In the past week we've managed to send over $150,000!"
Calling the response "amazing," Abou-Ezzi said she has been particularly bowled over by the outreach she's received from members of the Brooks community. "Even before we started fundraising, I had a lot of people, even people who I haven't spoken to in a while, including a lot of old classmates from Brooks, reach out to me to check in about my family and ask, 'Are you okay?'"
Abou-Ezzi at the entrance of her family's village in Lebanon.
Sending support to Beirut has been a labor of love for Abou-Ezzi, who graduated from Boston University this spring and plans to spend her upcoming year in the AmeriCorps (working for the Boston Healthcare for the Homeless program as a family team care coordinator focused on health education and management) before applying to medical school. "I was born in and grew up in the States, but my summers were spent in Lebanon for as long as I can remember," she said. "I consider it my second home."
The nation is "so, so beautiful," she added. "You can go from skiing in the day to watching the sunset on the beach at night." It's the people and culture, though, that have made the most impact on her. "Lebanon is the country where if you get a flat tire, five people will stop and help you change it. People really watch out for each other there and help one another. It's beautiful to see the resilience in the people and how they're helping each other, even in times of the country's weakest point, right now."
Some of the destruction in Beirut.
Her mother's perspective on life in Lebanon helps Abou-Ezzi understand just how dire Beirut's position is today. "My mom grew up during the war and you can see the fear in her eyes as if she was reliving it watching video of the explosion," said the Brooks graduate. "But what is most alarming is that a lot of my parents' friends in Beirut, who lived through the war as well, said that when everything started shaking and they heard the explosion, it was unlike anything they had ever seen before. This was more massive than anything the country has gone through, and that's shown in the devastation and destruction the blast caused throughout the country."
Watching and hearing about Lebanon's citizens working to help each other rise from the ashes inspires Abou-Ezzi, and keeps her striving to do more, she said. "They help motivate us here to do what we can to help from afar."
The Lebanese flag created with pieces of shattered glass from the explosion, on the ground in an area of Beirut heavily hit by the explosion on August 4.
Building on their initial fundraising, she and her cohorts are continuing to support Beirut today through a third GoFundMe initiative: "Support Beirut Rebuild" benefitting the Beirut non-profit Beit el Baraka. Previous beneficiaries have included the Lebanese Red Cross, on the front lines providing medical aid, and local organizations focused on rebuilding, from cleaning up shattered glass on the streets and hospitals to providing food for people who left homeless and organizing shelters.
"The country isn't going to be magically rebuilt," said Abou-Ezzi. "There's still going to be a lot of work to be done . . . and the help we can send from here is going a long way." With Lebanon in an economic inflation crisis today, too, she added, "The dollar is so highly valued in Lebanon that literally even one will make a difference." Just as one person can make an impact, she has personally learned.
"Lebanon is not the only country with people in it suffering at the moment," acknowledged Abou-Ezzi. "And as a single person, you can't save the world, but if you find something that is important to you and focus on that and do what you can to make your contribution to show that importance, then I think it makes a mark. If everybody in the world is able to do that, it would be in a much better place."
Want to help Beirut, too?
Monica Abou-Ezzi's initiative supporting Beit el Baraka is managed through GoFundMe. Additional organizations to which she recommends contributing include:
Questions for her directly? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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