Six Months Beyond: JRS Lebanon Shares Aid, Hope After Beirut Blast
01 February 2021
Yusra, a 35-year-old mother of three children, fled Syria with her family six years ago and sought refuge in Lebanon. When she first arrived in Lebanon, Yusra felt timid in her new environment. She did not feel comfortable going out by herself and would even ask others to accompany her.
In 2015, a friend introduced Yusra to JRS’ Frans van der Lugt (FVDL) social centre in Bourj Hammoud. In addition to participating in the makeup and cooking courses offered by the centre, Yusra also attended the psychosocial support group sessions conducted by Iman, the social worker.
“I used to wait eagerly for Friday to meet with the women at the centre, it was like home for us. We used to have fun together and laugh a lot,” describes Yusra.
The unforgettable moments of Beirut blast
On August 4, Yusra took some eggplants and zucchini to stuff at her friend’s place. While they were drinking coffee, they suddenly heard a loud blast. The blades of the fan in their room screeched, the door was pulled off, and everything in the room flipped upside down. Though physically unscathed, Yusra and her friend went into a state of shock. They had no idea what happened and would only later learn that the cause of the blast was a chemical explosion in the Beirut port.
When she was finally able to gather her thoughts, Yusra started worrying about her family. She put her friend’s concerns about the possibility of another explosion to the side and insisted on returning home. Running through the streets, she witnessed utter chaos. Glass from houses, shops and cars rained through the streets and debris made it difficult to navigate the streets.
Arriving home, she found her family intact, but shaken. Sahar, 14, the eldest child, was with her younger brother, Ahmad, 10, and her father at home when the blast rocked the city of Beirut. “I was sitting with Ahmad scrolling through TikTok and we felt the earth shake. I had no experience of anything like this, so I was rushing to tell my dad when suddenly the explosion occurred. We fell on the floor. Ahmad started screaming and calling for my mom and my second brother. He was terrified,” says Sahar.
However, Ismail, 13, the middle child, was working at the grocery shop close to their house on that day.
Yusra and her family wandered the streets that day and were very afraid to go back home. They were expecting another explosion to take place. Ahmad clung to his mother all day and refused to leave her for even a second.
Eventually, they came back home around 9:00 pm because there was no other place that they could go. They did not feel comfortable sleeping and were particularly cautious about being near the doors and windows. Ahmad was the most affected child among Yusra’s children. “He used to ask me to wait for him at the toilet’s door every time he went. He wanted me to stay beside him, he was so afraid and worried all the time,” says Yusra.
Healing through JRS intervention after the Blast
Ahmad participated in the psychosocial support sessions that were conducted by Houda, the social worker at FVDL. As Yusra describes, these sessions allowed Ahmad to express the turbulent emotions inside him. Houda, the social worker, asked the children to draw their fears on a paper, and then transform this fear into something positive. Ahmad drew thunder and airplane. He also opened up to her about what he experienced on August 4,” says Yusra.
These sessions helped him to overcome the fear induced by the Beirut blast. Now, he is able to go to school and the supermarket by himself.
Ahmad also received a check-up from the pediatrician at a JRS clinic due to asthma attacks. She prescribed him medicine and an inhaler. One month and a half later, his symptoms eased.
Ahmad’s older siblings, Sahar and Ismail also received care from JRS in processing the traumatic experiences of the blast. They spoke with Rachel, the youth club social worker at FVDL, about the nightmares and fears that constantly haunted them. Rachel helped them to manage their anxieties by listening and acknowledging the difficulties of dealing with any kind of trauma. Trusting her advice, Sahar and Ismail know that the option of more professional help is available should they need it.
Amid this unprecedented economic crisis in Lebanon and the dramatic increase of the goods price, Yusra was unable to pay the rent or provide for her family. JRS conducted a rapid assessment after the explosion and Yusra’s family was rated among the most vulnerable ones, taking into consideration that Yusra’s husband lost his work in agriculture due to the economic crisis, COVID-19, and health related problems which took a heavy toll on the family.
JRS supported them by distributing $250 cash assistance and food basket as part of the Beirut blast response project. Now, they are able to pay their overdue rent and not worry about being evicted for this winter at least.