September 8, 2020

YES Alumni in Lebanon Spring to Community Aid and Resilience after Blast

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YES Exchange Alumna Riwa Hasan with her friends cleaning up the neighborhood of Gemmayzeh. Gemmayzeh was another one of the centrally located and most affected parts of the city.
YES Alumni of Lebanon didn’t wait to pull together to help Beirut following the August 4, 2020 explosion in the city’s port. They took on helping their community right after the blast, helping clear rubble, checking on survivors to administer first aid, working in a local hospital, and closing up blown out windows in residents’ homes in the first week after the tragedy.

“We can’t deny that our experience in YES built in ourselves and in our personalities the idea of service,” says Nazih Raychouni, president of the YES Alumni Association in Lebanon. “I personally understood and was introduced to community service and community work when I went on YES during my exchange year. And I took it with me to Lebanon.”

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A before and after photo showing the work of the YES Exchange Alumni in a building affected by the explosion.
His fellow alumni are quick to credit him for his work after the clean up, as his social media posts amplified calls for donations and aid that were answered world-wide. The group was able to raise $1,000 through a GoFundMe page alone, has been distributing 300 meals a day from donations through places like the World Central Kitchen in California and over 2,000 boxes of food provisions to the hard hit neighborhoods of Gemmayzeh, Quarantino, and Mar Mikhael. The group is anticipating receiving overseas clothing donations for affected residents even now.

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YES Exchange Alumnus Majd Abdelkhalik performs a damage assessment with the Red Cross in the hard hit neighborhood of Mar Mikhael.

But that isn’t all the exchange alumni have done. After its initial clean up efforts, the group shifted into data collection and analysis mode in the neighborhood of Gemmayzeh, which they have now handed off to NGOs, like the Red Cross and MSF to distribute medicine and medical care, as well as to allot housing for those whose homes were destroyed. Just as impressively, they established “listening posts” with the Lebanese Cultural Association where psychologists were unhand for nine hours a day to assess and aid the mental health of anyone affected.

Members of the group are quick to add that they’ve all supported the efforts in their own way, according to their own talents and skills. They include Ali Akil, a nurse who was at one of the central hospitals receiving victims who even now stays for extra shifts and volunteers at a primary care clinic to treat the wounded; Hoda Al Hawari​​​​​​​, a new graduate and former South region YES coordinator from neighboring town whose work got her sister involved a new exchange alumni; to former YES Alumni Association in Lebanon president Amir Hijazi who coordinated data collection efforts. Even a current student, YES alumnus, and current Mount Lebanon representative coordinator Houssam Al Jawhari​​​​​​​ seized on the YES spirit to lead a group from his university in collecting and distributing clothing along with contributing to clean up efforts.

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Former YES Alumni Association in Lebanon president Amir Hijazi organizes food donations at the headquarters of local NGO, Shaabe Massoulayati.

Amir says that Lebanon has had a tough time in 2020, but he credits the YES Alumni Association’s current president, Nazih, for his work in bringing all of them together to help their communities. They’re a family, he says, and they are a remarkable one at that.

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