Rebuilding Beirut: Supporting the most vulnerable

A devastating blast ripped through the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020 destroying entire sections of the city. Officials estimate that more than 170,000 people live in homes that need to be reconstructed. A year later, investigation findings have not been disclosed and no one has been held accountable.  

woman-in-beirut

It was an earthquake. I can only call it an earthquake, but the difference is that it was man-made. Nature did not bring this upon us, people did,” says Deebeh Al Dkak, a resident of Burj Hammoud district in Beirut, as she recalls events last year. A devastating blast ripped through the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020 destroying entire sections of the city. Officials estimate that more than 170,000 people live in homes that need to be reconstructed. A year later, investigation findings have not been disclosed and no one has been held accountable.  

As the eldest of four sisters, Deebeh moved to Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, from Zahle in the Bekaa Valley four decades ago seeking employment. She began working at a factory. Since then, she has lived in the same small flat in Burj Hammoud. As she recollects the events of that first Tuesday in August, she trembles and tries to hold back her tears.

wall-in-beirut

Port of Beirut

Deebeh was walking home from work when she heard a loud earth-shattering sound. “I quickly turned my back to the sound, closed my eyes and faced the corner. When the explosion happened, I felt my soul was blown out of my body,” she says. At home she couldn’t unlock her door as the explosion had dislodged it. She got in with the help of her neighbours and found the bathroom door knocked out, the wooden window frames and glass broken, the stove and washing machine knocked over and the cupboards hanging off their hinges.

Today, the windows and doors in Deebeh’s apartment are fully restored, the plumbing in the bathroom and kitchen fixed and a water heater added. “Many agencies and civil organizations surveyed the area, all asking the same questions and promising to come back. No one did, except you,” she says referring to Habitat for Humanity and the Catholic Relief Services who had joined forces to respond to the Beirut Port explosion and oversee repairs in homes such as Deebeh’s.

Lebanon is facing a multi-faceted crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic complicates matters further. Economic and political chaos sent poverty levels up and placed extreme pressure on vulnerable families struggling to secure food, water, electricity and healthcare. Habitat for Humanity and CRS are supporting those whose homes suffered minor or moderate damage. Partner organizations also provide financial and technical assistance to a selection of local nonprofit organizations focused on shelter rehabilitation.

Read more

Off
Rebuilding Beirut: Supporting the most vulnerable

Rebuilding Beirut: Supporting the most vulnerable

Generous Support in Difficult Times

The high school in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, usually volunteers with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program. With the COVID-19 pandemic going on, there was no way they could travel to the build site. Many students know how important a decent home to protect against diseases. They decided to raise and donate funds to Habitat for home construction. In these difficult times, the school collected 16,000 USD to support Habitat programs in Lebanon and India.

The high school in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, usually volunteers with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program. With the COVID-19 pandemic going on, there was no way they could travel to the build site. Many students know how important a decent home to protect against diseases. They decided to raise and donate funds to Habitat for home construction. In these difficult times, the school collected 16,000 USD to support Habitat programs in Lebanon and India.

 

The Dhahran High School has been partnering with Habitat since 2009. They completed 27 volunteer builds with almost 600 participants. “Going virtual due to the pandemic was a challenge for the school’s Habitat for Humanity club. Each year, the organization depends on student-organized and student-led events to raise funds. Seeing that in-person activities are no longer possible, the club’s executive team came up with a plan,” explained Alichia Gerber, a teacher at DHS. The club launched their first ever year-long group competition: dividing members into groups to compete against each other in raising funds. Throughout the year, they held virtual events to benefit the housing cause.

rose

A cupcake in the shape of a rose made by one student for a virtual student fundraiser

“The year started with the virtual iDo Series, 12 student-led sessions teaching everything from cooking to painting and more. Later, students also engaged in tutoring, baby sitting and selling homemade masks to raise funds,” said Alichia Gerber. In the second semester, students organized a Walkathon Month, when club members walked, ran, biked, and swam to reach the club’s goal of covering distance from Lebanon to India, a total of 4,400 km. As students did this, they also recruited sponsors to donate money for the distance they travelled. The final fundraiser was called the Habitat Garage Sale, when students sold what they had or created and donated proceeds to Habitat. At the end of the year, students had opportunities to create Habitat displays to convey what they had learned and take extra online courses to educate themselves about Habitat and housing.

 

Students presented two cheques, totaling USD 16,000, for Lebanon and Habitat India during the online sessions with representatives of Habitat for Humanity from the area office, volunteering programs and countries, India and Lebanon.

Make a difference

Off
Generous Support in Difficult Times
students

Generous Support in Difficult Times

What is a slum

In episode 3 of our podcast series, we talk about informal settlements in Africa with Charles Witbooi, Program Head for Advocacy and Volunteering Engagement at Habitat for Humanity South Africa.

In episode 3 of our podcast series, we talk about informal settlements in Africa with Charles Witbooi, Program Head for Advocacy and Volunteering Engagement at Habitat for Humanity South Africa.

The first very important point Charles clarifies is the term “slum” itself. In South Africa, “slum” is not used due to its political implications. The country’s past was marked by Slum Clearance Acts, which were used by the government to evict people who lived in poor conditions. For this reason, the preferred terms are “informal settlements” or “squatter camps”.

As in other parts of the world, despite the different terms, what they describe is areas where people live in temporary households and without basic services. However, the degree of poverty varies from one settlement to the other; some of them have rudimentary services – shared toilets or electricity – some have none.

In South Africa, the origins of informal settlements can be traced back to the years of segregation. In those days, the population was segmented according to official racial groups which all had their own geographical area to live in.

After 1994, the year when segregation ended, and the country opened to the world. Black South Africans, who until then had been cut out of key areas of the economy, had the chance to get job opportunities and move freely, often closer to big cities. As a result, the number of informal settlements around urban areas grew quickly.

As of today, the biggest squatter camps are indeed located around metropolitan cities, such as Johannesburg, the centre of economic life, Soweto, or Cape Town, Khayelitsha.

The latter for example, Khayelitsha, is a suburb of Cape Town, which features a variety of different living conditions: from formal housing with decent economic opportunities and even some basic services to areas where services are very limited, with no access to running water or electricity.

Listen to Home Sapiens podcast.

In addition, in the Cape Town area, informal settlements are often located 30-35km or more from the urban core, which is the centre of all economic activities. Therefore, people can really find themselves marginalised in many ways. Being so isolated, these areas often do not represent a pleasant or safe environment, especially for women and children.

The housing diversity in settlements such as Khayelitsha is mainly due to the policies of last 27 years. Since then, the government has been giving free housing to those eligible. However, the process often takes longer than expected, and many have been on a waiting list for years.

Since there is no money to acquire a house on the market, most people have no other alternatives than keep living in informal, temporary settlements while hoping and waiting for the next housing project to improve the quality of their lives.

What people living in squatter camps all tend to share is a life on a very low income. However, the reasons why they chose to live there can be different for each community. In the metropolitan areas, for example, most people came from rural areas – where there are less opportunities – in order to find a better job, better education for their children, or simply better social services, and live in temporary housing in the meantime.

As much as we like to feature success stories of the people we support, however, not many South Africans living in those conditions have to opportunity to make it and improve their life conditions, which is why our work with these communities is so critical.

The current pandemic has highlighted the core of the issue: shelter. When people have access to proper housing, hygiene can be preserved, and distancing or self-isolation can be easily put into practice, so that is the starting point for a change.

The process, according to Charles Witbooi, should be driven by the government but should have all actors – NGOs, local communities, companies – actively involved, each playing their own role but all working together to achieve a common goal – improving the life conditions of the informal settlements’ dwellers.

In Charles’s opinion, a home is a place where a family can live together in a secure environment, with sufficient space and, most importantly, with dignity. A place that allows children to go to school and study safely, so that they can improve the quality of their lives in the future, if compared to previous generations. This is what all housing projects should be based on: the promise of a place one can become proud owner of and, finally, the transformation of that promise into a reality.

Home Sapiens podcast was produced as a part of the Build Solid Ground Project, founded by the European Union, Habitat for Humanity. Its content is the sole responsibility of Habitat for Humanity and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union

 

Listen now:

Apple Podcasts

Spotify

Google Podcasts

<Go back> <Next Episode>

Discover more

Equality in an unequal society

Episode 4 brings up the issue of gender equality. We take a closer look at customs and traditions in Lesotho. Stories of women evicted from their homes are typical in many communities in this country. Fungai Mukorah, national director of Habitat for Humanity Lesotho,  walks us through women’s experiences and their fight for shelter. 

Read more

Studying by candlelight

Episode 5 is driven by young enthusiasts. Linus Wahome, founder and CEO of ManPro Systems Ltd, shares his childhood and school memories . As a family of three tried hard to provide best conditions for their children, Linus and his siblings had to share one candle while doing their homework. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.  

Read more

Does the right to housing exist?

Episode 1 welcomes listeners to the world of housing. Architect Esben Neander Kristensen, Director at Gehl, explains the difference between home and housing, discusses the right to housing, and provides insights into how the COVID-19 pandemic changed our perception of home. This episode opens the first season of Home Sapiens. 

Read more

Water is life

Episode 2 explains that not everyone in the world has access to clean drinking water. In Zambia, many families are challenged every day to survive. Mathabo Makuta, national director of Habitat for Humanity Zambia, discusses problems with access to clean water and water borne diseases.  

Read more
Off
slum-housing

What is a slum?

a look into Khayelitsha, one of the world's biggest slums

Home Sapiens podcast

A new podcast series takes listeners on a housing journey around the world.  People face many challenges in their lives: lack of drinking water, gender inequality, and harsh living conditions. However, one thing stays the same - everyone needs a place to call home. 

Subscribe to