After the terrible explosion which occurred last Tuesday in the port of Beirut, international and local aid initiatives to help the inhabitants of the devastated capital are growing. Les valises pour Beyrouth is one of them. Through a network of volunteer based in Paris, this solidarity initiative proposes to send suitcases of clothing and basic necessities through travelers going to Beirut.
Lebanon has a long history of tragedy: political, economic, financial and more recently the pandemic. But the blast that struck the country last Tuesday marks the beginning of a new era. The one of a large-scale humanitarian crisis in a country where 44% of the population already lives below the poverty line. After the explosion of more than 2500 tons of ammonium nitrate in the heart of the capital, more than 300,000 people are now homeless. If France was the first to come and show its support for the Cedar country, this international solidarity is also expressed at the individual level. While many online donations allow people to give and participate from a distance, a lot of them feel helpless in the face of their inability to help on the ground.
Clothing and basic necessities
This is what led two Franco-Lebanese women living in Paris, Youmna Jeday, Jessica Nassif and Aya Mcheimeche , to join forces to launch Les valises pour Beyrouth, an initiative born on instagram two days after the accident: “When the explosion broke out, I immediately wanted to do something by organizing aid from Paris, but I was with my family in Brittany and it was complicated to organize anything, I then realized that Youmna and Jessica were doing the same thing I was doing on social networks and they were in Paris, so they helped to set up all the logistic and I took care of the communication on the social networks,” explains Aya in the premises lent for the occasion.
Every day, their network of volunteers collects and sorts dozens of bags of clothing and basic necessities to be sent by suitcases to Beirut. Once they arrive at their destination, the donations are then distributed to three local and apolitical partner associations such as the Lebanese Red Cross, Arceneciel et Meghterbin Mejtemiin “We want to make sure that the associations we work with are in line with our vision, i.e. apolitical and anti-confessional, but above all that the products arrive safely and are not diverted by customs, which is totally corrupt. Suitcases are a good way to do this,” adds Youmna Jeday.
And many people have responded to the call launched on social networks by the three young women since the instagram account Les valises pour Beyrouth is already followed by more than 2300 people, only one week after the tragedy. They receive thousands of requests every day from people looking to help, as Nadim, one of the volunteers, tells us: “It’s a full-time job, from morning to night people contact us to help us. We set up a google document to have a clearer vision of the tasks we need to accomplish, and to follow-up our resources, from donations to human resources. Thus, we can better distribute the tasks between those who are going on a trip to Beirut, those who want to make donations, and the one who just wants to help us on the ground”.
40 suitcases sent, 100 to come
Lebanese from the diaspora, French people who have lived in Lebanon, travelers who liked the country or simply people affected by the dramatic events. Like this young man who passes by after his working day to pick up a suitcase that he will bring with him to Beirut the next day, or this couple who came by bicycle to drop off clothes.
On the logistical side, the network of volunteers is already organized like a little startup, working tirelessly from morning to evening in the premises lent for the summer by a Lebanese who usually houses his company there. Some people who come for a few hours to bring their help, but also a small team of permanents working daily to fill suitcases and bring them to Lebanon. Then a network of volunteers in Lebanon takes over, explains Nadim: “We have a network of drivers and friends there who come to pick up the suitcases at Beirut airport, and deliver them to the right associations. People that we trust and who want to improve the country as we do.” Today, more than 40 suitcases were already sent and there are already 100 more to go. Suitcases with a little word slipped inside: “Love and solidarity from paris to Beirut”, a message from the bottom of the heart that translates the love of these young people for Lebanon.