Fifteen-year-old Emma Sleiman points to her country’s youth-led efforts amid Lebanon’s crisis saying, “we believe in the future of Lebanon.”
Rabat – Lebanon’s youth are making up for the shortcomings of their country’s government by facilitating networks of support and aid after a devastating explosion rocked Beirut on August 4.
“The new generation is taking things into their own hands. We are the ones working for this because we believe in the future of Lebanon,” fifteen-year-old Emma Sleiman, a high school student in Beirut, told Morocco World News.
Days after the explosion, caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate unsafely stored at Beirut’s port for six years, rescue workers are continuing to comb through the rubble for more than 60 people still reported missing.
Sleiman and Zahraa Issa, 20, spearheaded the creation of an Instagram page and website to help locate missing victims from the devastating blast that has killed at least 157 people and injured more than 6,000.
“Locate Victims Beirut”
The website and social media page called, “Locate Victims Beirut” is host to dozens of images and contact information submitted by the loved ones of missing persons.
With the help of 9 other volunteers, the team assembled lists of missing, found, and hospitalized victims onto the website. This allowed them to centralize information and make it easier for people to locate their loved ones.
“I was seeing so many victims being reported on so many different pages and I thought, even if I recognized these individuals, there is no way I would remember who reported them in the first place because the info was all over the place. I decided to create a single platform,” said Issa.
Days after creating the Instagram page, Issa and Sleiman joined initiatives and linked the website with the Instagram account.
In addition to identifying missing persons, their sites publish resources and information regarding free shelters, humanitarian aid, and free counseling services for victims experiencing trauma. There is also a link for people to offer means of assistance.
Initiatives in the absence of government support
With more than 110 thousand followers on Instagram, Sleiman says that it’s “the people” who are making their initiative work.
“Followers are the one’s coming together to provide information,” she said. “We are making sure the facts are true. We are trying to provide people with as much information as possible in the quickest way.”
Issa, a recent graduate in law at a university in London, affirmed the challenges of relying on the government. “Right now it feels like they don’t have a full grasp on anything going on,” she said. “I think government incompetence is a huge theme governing everything happening in Lebanon right now.”
The two young women note that their platform is part of the many community-led initiatives filling in the gaps where the government is unable to support them. These initiatives include cleaning up the streets, rebuilding, food distribution, and medical care.
Efforts and issues that extend beyond the explosion
Sleiman, whose dream is to be a doctor, stressed that the platform they have created will be ongoing. “We want to help people. We are trying to collaborate with people. We will also work to locate people who have been missing since the country’s civil war. It will be a continuous project.”
This week’s disaster fueled the public’s anger and frustrations over the incompetencies, mismanagement, and corruption plaguing the country’s leadership.
For many, the explosion, which government officials are either directly or indirectly responsible for, is another sign that Lebanon is headed toward a failed statehood. Protesters are demanding that the government resign, underlining its failure to uphold a stable economy and years of political unrest.
The United Nations has warned that across Lebanon, “the needs are immediate, and they are huge.”
In an article published by the UN on August 7, the organization reports that a recent “World Food Program survey found that food has become a major source of concern in Lebanon since the [COVID-19] lockdown, with one-in-two people worried about not having enough to eat.”
As international support makes its way into the country, citizens concern over the destiny of relief funds and aid packages.
“Give international aid and money to us — the population! Not the government,” Sleiman said. “They may be taking it for themselves.”
Lebanese aren’t the only ones fearing that the government may take advantage of the crisis. French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beirut earlier this week to offer “love and friendship” to Lebanon in the wake of the explosion.
Macron assured the Lebanese people that “help would not go into corrupt hands.”
He called the visit, “an opportunity to have a frank and challenging dialogue with the Lebanese political powers and institutions.”