On The Road Blog
In Beirut, World Cup Fever is Broken by Bombs
- By Emmanuel Otoo on July 15th, 2014
- Category: Blog, Featured, Featured Blog, Home, Middle East and North Africa
I arrived in Lebanon during the FIFA World Cup tournament and was struck by the World Cup fever in Beirut. Though Lebanon was not one of the countries participating in the tournament, the spirit of the most popular world soccer event was strong and infectious in The City That Would Not Die. So much attention was given to the tournament, and people were flying the flags of their favorite countries and were constantly glued to their TV sets when matches were being telecast.
After I had been in the city for a few days, attention was tragically shifted from the FIFA soccer tournament to a car explosion caused by a suicide bomber. A security officer was killed when the suicide bomber set off a car bomb close to a Lebanese army checkpoint in Beirut, near a southern suburb with a large population of Shia Muslims. Reports suggested that several people who were watching the World Cup at the Abu Assaf café were severely wounded by the blast.
I was shaken and terrified when I heard the news, but I tried to put up a brave front. The news spread incredibly fast, and discussions in the city quickly shifted from soccer to the explosion. I reached out to our grantee partners to find out if their staff and especially the children they support were affected in any way by the explosion. It was heartwarming to know that they were all doing well.
Just a couple of days later, a close friend of mine came by my hotel to check on me and to break the news to me that there had been another explosion. This time, it was not a car bomb but an explosion in a hotel. A young suicide bomber had blown himself up in his hotel room. The blast took place inside the Duroy Hotel in Beirut’s Raouche district.
When I was informed of the incident and started thinking about the fact that I was also in a hotel, I felt practically crushed inside. I got even more petrified when I heard rumors that there were explosives planted in another hotel that were expected to go off within hours. You can imagine the millions of negative thoughts that flooded my mind. The question was, was my hotel among those that were expected to blow up? Again I reached out to our partners to check if they were all OK and not affected by the second explosion. I was confined to my room and was overtaken by trauma and fear. I almost fainted when I saw a team of Red Cross officers at the lobby of the hotel where I was staying.
Another bombing in eastern Lebanon killed a police officer and wounded many others; in less than a week, there had been three major explosions. Almost all the TV and radio stations were talking about these unfortunate and scary incidents. I had to carefully plan my movements outside the hotel and obtain sufficient and credible intelligence information before making any move.
In all of this, I tried to appear calm and unaffected, but I was terrified inside. I debated whether or not I should cut short my trip and return home. I know I am not the Red Cross, UNHCR, an emergency relief person, or some kind of Superman, but I also know I have an unwritten contract with the vulnerable children of this world, wherever they are, that I will be there for them at all times.
Of course, I am very careful about security and safety issues, take local intelligence into consideration, avoid taking unnecessary risks, and always heed security experts’ advice. At the same time, I love being alive and want to continue to enjoy life and have fun with my loved ones, so I will not risk my life. In my place, what decision would you have made?
When all of this was taking place, I tried in my quiet moments to think of the millions of children in parts of the world such as the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, South Sudan, and Syria who experience this trauma from explosions and other forms of conflict on a daily basis, not to mention the thousands who lose their lives.
My mind immediately went to Ahmed, a little boy in a shantytown near Hey el Gharbeh in southern Beirut, and his family, who managed to escape the war in Syria and are now being supported by one of GFC’s grantee partners, Tahaddi. I thought of how this family was so traumatized by their war experiences and how grateful they were to Tahaddi for the assistance they were receiving, especially the psychosocial support and the support for their children’s education and health.
“I am so happy when I see my children going to school at Tahaddi and they come home very cheerful and looking forward to the next day at school. We do not know what we would have done without this incredible help we get from these angels at Tahaddi,” Ahmed’s father told me as he wiped his tears with his shirt.
I also reflected on conversations I had had some time ago with Palestinian refugees and their children who are being supported by GFC grantee partner Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps. I thought about the many refugees from DRC currently in Uganda that I met during one of my site visits, as well as the young boys I met in DRC who were forcibly recruited as child soldiers and have now been rescued by GFC grantee partner Bureau pour le Volontariat au Service de l’Enfance et de la Santé (BVES). At BVES, they are being supported to either go to school or acquire livelihood skills after they have recovered from their trauma and fear.
My predicament in Lebanon also reminded me of the young girls I met at GFC grantee partner Heshima Kenya, who were lucky to have escaped from conflicts in different parts of the world and are receiving psychosocial and other forms of care to help them recover and reintegrate into society. The stories of other conflict-affected girls I talked with in northern and western Uganda came to mind as well.
Thinking about all of these children, my major focus was on those unlucky thousands who were unable to escape from conflicts, wars, and explosions. I was not next to the explosions in Lebanon and yet was so terrified, while most of these children I mentioned were right in the center of some of these conflicts and explosions, with many severely injured and others physically disabled or mentally affected by their harsh experiences.
All this needless suffering of children must stop. I am looking forward to a time when there will be no explosions and when attention will shift to a meaningful and sustainable way of protecting the most vulnerable children of the world, providing the space and platform for them to be children, to play, laugh, get medical attention, go to school, stay in school, and learn.
I am looking forward to a world where children will get the opportunity to enjoy their rights at all times and not be forced to work all day without food, be sexually abused, walk miles trying to escape from war, be forced to leave their homes and survive in a refugee camp, or die from preventable diseases. A world where there will be no need to rescue children from their homes because they are being abused by adults, sometimes their own family members (who are supposed to take care of them), or from the streets, where they are living because they have lost their parents. Remember that children hate to be neglected, abandoned, or left behind.
GFC loves children and believes that community-based organizations understand their situation better and that, given support, these organizations are well positioned to implement practical, sustainable initiatives that are grounded in local social support systems and child protection practices.
“You are doing something extraordinary and wonderful. You are committed to protecting and supporting children through small organizations no one believes in,” one of GFC’s grantee partners said of GFC when talking to other organization in Lebanon. “You answered the call—to fight for the protection of children and to make them smile. You understand what makes children live like children and grow to be responsible and dignified adults,” said another.
GFC has paid attention to children, especially the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach children. In the Middle East and North Africa, GFC provides grassroots organizations with targeted capacity-building support and skill development, in response to their needs, so they can enhance the ways in which they meet the needs of vulnerable children in their communities.
GFC also provides both flexible philanthropic capital and tailored support to programmatic and organizational leaders. In addition to investing capital and support services, GFC strives to increase community-based organizations’ visibility by highlighting their innovative program models to donors and media outlets.
GFC also organizes Knowledge Exchanges—forums for grantee partners to learn from one another and from experts in the field—to promote peer learning that spans countries and thematic issues and to bring together dedicated community leaders. One Knowledge Exchange took place in Beirut this June, when seven GFC grantee partners from Lebanon and Egypt—Tahaddi, Nawaya Network, Association for the Development of Palestinian Camps, Alwan wa Awtar, Future Lights for Development Organization, Educate-Me, and Alashanek ya Balady Association for Sustainable Development—came together for three days to have a platform to interact with each other, share their “promising practices,” and learn from their challenges as they brainstormed to find culturally appropriate and sustainable solutions. They also used the Knowledge Exchange to learn about topics and issues that they had pre-selected for their relevance to helping them better implement initiatives and deepen their efforts in protecting children
Together with these organizations and many other grassroots organizations in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia, Europe, the US, Latin America, and the Caribbean, as well as a number of generous and committed individuals, corporate and institutional donors, we have decided to maintain our focus on letting children be children. Will you please accept this humble invitation and join us today?