August 4, 2020 – a date that is forever seared in the hearts of many Lebanese. Given all that’s happened to our world since—pandemic lockdowns, social upheavals, and contentious elections—it’s easy, somewhat understandable, to forget what happened back then, or to dismiss it as a crazy thing that only happens “over there.”
On that day, a chemical explosion at the Port of Beirut ripped through the heart of the Lebanese capital, destroying and damaging thousands of homes, killing more than 200 people, and nearly bringing a proud nation, already buckling under the COVID-19 pandemic and political gridlock, to its knees. But as is often the case, the worst of times brings out the best in people. Immediately, our government and the American people stepped up, flying in personnel, equipment, food, and emergency supplies.
At Spirit of America, we also committed ourselves to respond to the tragedy and to bolster our country’s efforts to help a partner in need. Like many of our diplomats and military commanders, we understand how vital international partnerships are to our national security and economic well-being. Helping partner nations in their time of need is not just admirable action; it’s sound foreign policy.
Before August ended, I was back on the ground in Lebanon, aiming to fulfill our commitment. After weeks of engagements, site visits, vetting, and coordination with the US Embassy, and leveraging our local network of friends and supporters, I found the partner I’d been looking for: Baytna Baytak (“our home is your home”), a Beirut-based NGO that assists needy individuals and families without regard to religion, sect, gender, or social background. Baytna Baytak is also the driving force behind Basecamp, a group of NGOs that pooled their resources to provide comprehensive support and services more efficiently.
Given the severity of the situation, we committed nearly $60,000 in funding to:
- Facilitate damage assessments and repairs for 2,000 homes
- Provide pro bono legal representation for up to 150 low-income individuals
- Enable the operational integration of Basecamp NGOs, including Baytna Baytak so that they can synchronize their activities
We are grateful for your generous support of this project. A little over six months after that day, I’m pleased to share with you what your support has helped accomplish:
- Over 900 damaged homes have been inspected and repaired, and another 200 are in the queue
- Pro bono legal representation for an average of 50 low-income individuals each month
- Systematic integration of Basecamp operations, including Baytna Baytak
We helped achieve these outcomes by providing Baytna Baytak the resources they needed to create the systems necessary for effective and transparent work. The computers and communications equipment we supplied built the headquarters operations’ capacity, and short-term stipends ensured the volunteers, engineers, and technicians could get by.
Our approach has paid off handsomely so far. One of the data officers on the engineering teams, Gaelle, noted, “The laptops and iPads have been life-savers in data management. We reduced the use of paper and could easily manage data anytime and anywhere. Thank you for the generous donation.”
Adnan, a father of four living in Burj Hammoud, a badly hit suburb of Beirut, was about to be evicted by his landlord following the blast. Thanks to no-cost legal support from Baytna Baytak, that grim outcome was averted. “Merci [thank you] Baytna Baytak, my kids are staying in their home and won’t sleep on the streets,” he explained.
He continued, “I have no more problems with my landlord and the municipality, and my home is safe again. God Bless you and protect you, thank you for helping me!”
Beyond the data and the gratitude of our extraordinary partners, the work at hand is ultimately about improving the lives of individuals like Mr. Adnan.