#UN4Beirut: UN staff join hands in solidarity with Lebanese people

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14 Aug 2020

#UN4Beirut: UN staff join hands in solidarity with Lebanese people

The United Nations Staff Unions in Lebanon have collectively launched the #UN4Beirut initiative to show solidarity and support to the people of Lebanon by cleaning the streets of a Beirut district, which was devastated by deadly explosions that rocked the city on 4 August 2020.

Under the slogan “#UN4Beirut,” UN staff working and residing in Lebanon were mobilized to respond to the humanitarian crisis facing the city. Together with hundreds of other volunteers, they contributed to the cleaning of the streets of debris in the badly damaged neighborhoods.

UNICEF staff member, Nazih Yacoub, who is the Regional Chair of the UN Staff Associations, stated that “this is the minimum act of solidarity that UN personnel could have done.”

“We are here, all one UN, one family, one team to help in cleaning the city that we all love, the city that we all work, and this is the least we can give to Lebanon and the people of Lebanon during this crisis,” he added.

Donning masks, hats, and gloves and carrying buckets, burlap bags and shovels, UN staff from various agencies working across the country activated #UN4Beirut initiative last week to clean up, glass and rubble from the streets devastated by the explosions and to help badly affected and traumatized residents make their homes habitable again.

“It was surreal to see the level of damage and destruction and different people’s lives just thrown apart into the streets,” said Lamis Daoud from UNHCR. “You are basically helping clean up people’s lives and it is just a deep devastating and surreal feeling.”

“But, despite that, it was very heart-warming to see a lot of people mobilized, coming together hand-in-hand providing support to different communities within Beirut,” she concluded.

Most UN staff were joined by friends and family members. Staff members were divided into different groups to cover three major areas of the city that were badly affected.

Empathy and solidarity
#UN4Beirut, a staff union’s initiative, was launched as a demonstration of empathy and solidarity with the people of Lebanon. Many youths have enthusiastically taken part in the effort, standing shoulder to shoulder to assist in the community relief work.

For Haidar Fahs of UNIFIL, the amount of damage and destruction that he witnessed was truly emotional.

“Being a Lebanese that used to come to this area and witnessing this amount of chaos the explosion did was heartbreaking for me. I used to hang out in these streets, and seeing the huge amount of houses destroyed, the historical meaning of places destroyed, just brought tears into my heart and soul,” he said.

Faith in humanity
Throughout its history, the city of Beirut has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. However, like the mythical Phoenix, the capital city of Lebanon has been compared to the bird that rises from the ashes.

“I am confident that the Lebanese people will overcome this crisis as they always did,” said Mr. Fahs. “Beirut is similar to the Phoenician bird. It burned. Then it would rise back again.”

While still mourning the loss of their loved ones, Lebanese citizens are determined to rebuild their shattered lives, homes and businesses with the hope of bringing their city back to its former self.

“What happened [here] reminded me of the wars that have passed on Lebanon, but hope still remains with me and when I saw so many people on the grounds working with each other, helping each other, gave me the certainty that we are going to come back stronger and better than before,” said the optimist Mr. Fahs.

“What I have witnessed is a sign of hope and faith in humanity that still exists in these days.”

UN staff around the world have also shown overwhelming support for their Lebanese colleagues. The UN Staff Unions in New York, Nairobi and Vienna, as well as the Staff Associations of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP, and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), have raised funds  to support the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and UNIFIL, both headquartered in Lebanon.