After Lama Masri felt the shockwaves of the massive explosion that ripped through Beirut on Tuesday, she knew that people in the city would need help.
“I went immediately to the pharmacy, grabbed a first aid kit and ran to help. When something like this happens, it’s your first instinct – you’re in crisis mode,” the 32-year-old told Al Jazeera.
Masri, a software developer based in Beirut, was among thousands of Lebanese nationals who have been actively taking matters into their own hands to provide aid to those affected by the explosion, which killed 137 people and wounded some 5,000 others according to the government.
“I could see literally at least 60 percent of our population on the streets, helping people, whether they’re organisers or just coming in on their own as volunteers,” she told Al Jazeera.
“I had 11 workers helping out and I’d left for a bit to get them sandwiches. [Since] nothing was open – everything was shattered; some people came out on motorcycles to distribute food,” said Masri. “I ended up with 11 boxes of free food.”
The country has been shaken by multiple crises in recent months. Last October, protesters took to the streets to call for a political overhaul as financial and economic crises worsened in the country.
According to ICRC spokeswoman Rona Halabi, there has been increasing concern that the situation will worsen in the aftermath of the explosion, which devastated the port of Beirut – a vital location for food and aid imports.
“We usually get all our aid through the port, so this may affect our work,” Halabi told Al Jazeera. “But we, of course, are here to provide as much as we can to the families of the victims and the injured.”
Meanwhile, people are coming together as part of volunteer organisations, and even individually, to assist stricken communities. Halabi says providing medical assistance has undoubtedly been critical.
“This city and everyone is shaken to the core,” she said. “Several hospitals are still damaged; the ones that are still working have been overwhelmed [with people] who’ve had injuries. And there’s still a big need of assistance.”
But as hospitals struggled with the influx of wounded people – many had to look for medical treatment elsewhere.
“My colleague was injured with her mother and she went to the hospital in Beirut … They were then able to receive medical support in another hospital because there were more serious injuries that needed those hospital beds,” said Halabi. “A lot of patients were also being treated in parking lots.”
Volunteers who have provided assistance on the ground, like Masri, said they used tweezers to help remove glass pieces from people’s wounds.
“You can’t just sit at home and say, I’m safe here, when others have lost everything. I can’t see devastation and not react,” said Masri.
Global Solidarity Movement
Campaigns focused on spreading awareness of the situation on the ground have since gained international attention. A large number of charity organisations, like non-profit group Impact Lebanon, have put together fundraisers to respond to the crisis. Several initiatives have also been launched to direct potential donors and volunteers to reliable organisations.
Ghida Beydoun, 22, Dania Kharazi, 20, and Nour Abi Fadel, 19, recently came up with the idea of a platform to help spread awareness about the availability of services catering to those in need.
“We’re creating an Instagram account called VolunteerBeirut outlining the different areas of help,” said Abi Fadel.
“[Its purpose] is to increase equity in the digital space so everyone is aware of current volunteering initiatives, and they can determine how to help as well.”
A student volunteer group focused on environmental clean-up, called GEMs (Green Environment Group) also created a WhatsApp group, to mobilise youth in providing help with recovery efforts in the capital city.