Beirut Port Explosion 100 days on: color returns to twelve-year-old Hussein’s world

For 12-year-old Hussein, the events of August 4 changed his life dramatically. First meeting him in the days after the explosion, we returned and learned how the color is being restored to his life.

Simon Balsom
Houssein, 12 years at Al-Karantina public garden
04 November 2020

Beirut’s August 4 port explosion touched the life of every one of the city’s residents. For many, in particular its children, the impact has been profound. While some lost family members, others saw their parents severely injured. Even where such devasting events were somehow avoided, the sound of the explosion and its devastating effects on their neighbourhoods - and the hitherto safe-spaces of their homes - were impossible to escape. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, UNICEF put into action an integrated emergency response plan to ensure the health and safety of thousands of affected families and their children.

For 12-year-old Hussein, a resident of Karantina – a Beirut suburb close to the port and home to many of the city’s most vulnerable families – the events of August 4 changed his life dramatically.

We first met Hussein in mid-August within the confines of the newly designated and UNICEF-supported child friendly space in Karantina’s municipal park. An outwardly typical fun-loving boy who’s keen on drawing and an athletic footballer, it was only when he showed us his latest artworks that the change within this young boy became apparent.

The set of drawings he held so tightly highlighted a life divided. His pictures set before August 4 are bright, happy, and full of color. All those reflecting images of his life since that evening are dark, gloomy, and monochromatic. Some represent the moment of the explosion’s impact on his home, his family, his life.

Hussein, with UNICEF representative in Lebanon, Yukie Mokuo
Houssein, 12 years with UNICEF staffer

“I stopped using color on my drawings that show my life because everything changed on that day”, Hussein explained. “after the explosion, my world has no color. The explosion made all the colors in my life disappear. Everything changed”.

Ten weeks later, and we meet Hussein again. As energetic as before, although less on edge, he’s happy to report to us that he’s visited the park every day since he last saw us. Throughout that time, he’s spent many hours with members of a highly trained UNICEF-supported psychosocial support team. Ask Hussein though, and he’s been coming here only to meet his friends and to play.

In truth, and through play, he and his friends have started to heal their psychological wounds. Hussein is happy to talk about his life today. The biggest sign that he is making progress is in the pictures he’s brought to show us. Where, in August, there was darkness and desolation, today, 100 days after the explosion, there is joy, confidence, and hope. “The color is back in my life again”, professes a smiling Hussein.

Hussein’s story is one of many examples of progress and renewed hope emerging from the city of Beirut where UNICEF has, since August 4, supported thousands of children, parents and caregivers following the port explosion.