On the afternoon of 4 August 2020, two explosions occurred at the port of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. The catastrophe caused over 170 deaths, 6,000 injuries, between 10 and 15 billion dollars of property damage, and left 300,000 people homeless. Under the guidance of Campus Director Yasmina Touaibia, Lebanese students from Sciences Po’s Menton campus, both on the ground in Lebanon and in France, immediately began to think of how they could help.
Sciences Po’s Menton campus hosts the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean programme which studies the historical, political, economic and social ties between this region of the world and France. Hence, it was only fitting that Sciences Po’s Menton community felt compelled to mobilise and take action. With the support of Doctor Touaibia, Lebanese students quickly founded Sciences Po Med Liban, an initiative with three missions: collecting clothes, medication, and other material donations from the French Riviera to send to the affected area in Lebanon, committing to rebuild a street that was greatly damaged by the explosions, and participating in the financial and material reconstruction of a public hospital that was destroyed.
We spoke to Joseph Moussa who was also one of the co-creators of Menton Livraison, an initiative to help senior citizens along the French riviera at the start of the coronavirus health crisis, and Emmanuel Houalla, both of whom are part of the Sciences Po Med Liban initiative and are currently in Menton organising the first mission, dubbed “la collecte”.
How soon after the explosion did you create Sciences Po Med Liban? How did you first go about it?
Joseph: The day after the explosion, Dr. Touaibia emailed all of us, the Lebanese students of the campus in Menton, to make sure that we and our families were all safe and well. She also asked what she could personally do to help us and eventually called me to schedule an appointment with everyone so that we could discuss what we, as a community, could do to help Lebanon during these difficult times for the country. Before long, all of us were discussing various ideas and actions that we could undertake, knowing that we had members of the Sciences Po community both in Lebanon as well as in France, which could guarantee unparalleled efficiency and transparency. We convened that we could assume the role of Sciences Po’s campus in Menton as a bridge between France and the Arab world and therefore mobilise regional actors, whether civil or governmental, in order to amplify the aid efforts of our students on the ground. Before long, amazing and creative ideas were coming from everywhere, from Marine suggesting the name itself, to Kim proposing the only “collecte” in the French Riviera as well aiding the hospital her father was involved in, to Dalia utilising her connections on the ground with charities and professional organisations to propose the support of a given street. And the rest, as they say, is history.
How is the project coming along? What are its main missions? How many people are behind it?
Emmanuel: When we started our "collecte" on the 18th of August, we immediately received donations from residents from all over the French Riviera including from towns such as Menton, Nice, Monaco and Cannes. Even more, these donations came from both companies as well as individuals hailing from all over the world, which was quite incredible since we saw how so many different nationalities, cultures, and languages converged together in order to do some good in the world and help Lebanese people that were very negatively impacted by the August 4 port explosions. As a matter of fact, a large part of our student space is now full and we plan to open a new collection center in Nice in the coming days with the help of the Nice municipality as well as the “Mon Liban d’Azur” association, in order to be able to accept even more donations. That being said, Sciences Po Med Liban is pursuing 3 main action plans: collecting clothes, medication, and other material donations which is the "collecte" that has already started, supporting an impacted street including its infrastructure and its residents, and lastly helping a non-profit with material and financial donations in order to contribute to rebuilding the "Quarantine" public hospital. As of now, Sciences Po Med Liban involves about twenty students both in Lebanon and France, as well as other members of the Sciences Po community, notably our campus director and a Lebanese professor. That being said, we are sure that as we head back to school and as we make strides in our efforts, both the initiative's membership and reach will grow with time.
What have you been able to collect so far? How do you sort through the donations? Where and to whom are you sending the items collected?
Emmanuel: So far, we have been able to collect all types of donations, ranging from clothes, blankets and towels to medical supplies, shoes and scooters. It is truly amazing how generous people can be and especially heart-warming for us. In order to sort through the donations, we first receive them on campus and leave them out for a couple of hours as part of the coronavirus-related sanitary measures we are taking. After that, we bring them indoors to the air-conditioned student space, where we then sort them out by categories: we have a clothes pile, a medical supplies pile, a blanket/towel/sheets piles, and lastly an "other" pile that comprises donations such as sunglasses and backpacks. We then catalogue them, day by day, in order to get an accurate picture of the amount of donations we have received so far. According to our plan, the donations will be sent to Beirut by private companies with whom we have already established contact. Once in Lebanon, students that are part of Sciences Po Med Liban will collect these donations and distribute them to the people in need who have been gravely impacted by the explosion. Throughout all of this, transparency is of utmost importance, which is why donations will be given directly to the people rather than any other institution and will be overseen at all times by our students until they make it to the hands of the beneficiaries. We will also accordingly update our website to inform the donors of the status of the donations.
How did you identify the street and the hospital you are committed to help rebuild? What does this rebuilding entail?
Joseph: When discussing the initiative with the Lebanese students in Lebanon who had personally lived through the explosion and witnessed its devastating consequences, we agreed that the “collecte”, which would provide immediate and humanitarian aid to the affected people, would not be enough. We feel it is necessary to undertake additional action plans that are even more ambitious and more long-term. Soon enough, the students on the ground utilised their connections to identify areas where we could help, and before long, a network was set up. The street which we aim to help is being visited by our students, led by Dalia, along with professionals in the field of construction as well as some charities. Dalia was also able to initiate contact with the town hall of Beirut so that we could eventually help Nor Hadjen, an underprivileged area with a high rate of extreme poverty that is located right in front of the port where the explosion occurred. This area is also significant to Beirut’s very identity since it contains many now-damaged patrimonial buildings, hence why we are currently working on partnering with the “The Association of World of Art & Heritage”. Based on professional evaluations carried out on the humanitarian needs and infrastructural needs, we will prepare a project to present to potential financiers on the local as well as regional scale to mobilise and redirect much-needed resources. Similarly, thanks to Kim’s connection and involvement in ASSAMEH - Birth & Beyond, a local non-profit organization that supports the pediatric section of a public hospital called “Quarantine”, we also aim to contribute to the reconstruction efforts which would involve meeting the specific needs outlined by the professional evaluation, while also having our students on the ground coordinating, overseeing and helping with the aid efforts being carried out.
What message do you want to share with readers? How can people help?
Joseph: I would like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, everyone who shared the pain and sorrow of the Lebanese people as we collectively mourned the lives lost on August 4th and looked in horror at the massive destruction that the port explosions caused to the city of Beirut. So many of us have, at some point or another in our lives, played in its narrow streets, sunbathed on its Mediterranean beaches, visited its world-famous cafes and restaurants, and explored its hidden gems, the ones that only the local residents would know about. This, and much more, is why we feel so passionate about Sciences Po Med Liban and would like to have as many people as possible involved and contributing to the initiative and to achieving its goals. If anyone would like to help, I would encourage them to visit our website at www.sciencespomedliban.fr or call our hotline on +33 (0)4 89 41 83 29 to learn more about the initiative and its different action plans. During these difficult times for Lebanon, every donation given to the country and every helping hand lent to its people is both more than welcome and immensely appreciated!
© Sciences Po Med Liban
Interview by the Sciences Po Editorial Team
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