Beirut Port Explosion 100 days on: happiness returns to ten-year-old Abdulkarim’s life

We first met Abdulkarim in the days following the devastating events of August 4. The city was in shock, it’s people too. Three months on, and we return to Karantina to find a happier Abdulkarim.

Simon Balsom
Abdulkarim, 10 years
UNICEF2020/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon
05 November 2020

Ten-year-old Abdulkarim was on the balcony of his home in the Beirut suburb of Karantina – adjacent to the port - with his father when they both heard the first of August 4’s two explosions. The second explosion caused significant damage to his home and his father was injured.

We first met Abdulkarim in the days following the devastating events of August 4. The city was in shock, it’s people too. For this young boy, and for every child in the affected areas of Beirut, confusion and fear still reigned.

“I felt very afraid after the explosion”, he told us. “Since we couldn’t stay in our home we moved to my aunt’s house two streets away, then my father took us all out of Beirut. I’m scared something like this will happen again”.

He spoke to us within the relative calm of Karantina’s municipal park – repurposed after the explosions as a child-friendly space by UNICEF and local partners.

Continuing, he told us, “My parents don’t talk about the evening of the explosion with me, but when I come to the park I talk with friends – this helps – and I know the organisers here have helped my friends escape their fear”.

Ten weeks later, and we’re back with Abdulkarim, and he’s keen to bring us up to date.

“We’re still spending our nights away from home, still out of Beirut”, he says, “but I come back every day with my father. He checks on rebuilding progress at our home, and I’m able to come to the park to meet my friends and to play”.

“I’m still afraid at night”, he tells us. “Every time I hear a loud noise it is upsetting for me”.
 

Abdulkarim, 10 years sitting in front of UNICEF staffer
UNICEF2020/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon
UNICEF Lebanon representative playing with the children at Al Karantina public garden
UNICEF2020/Fouad-Choufany/Lebanon

“Coming to the park is the only good thing in my life right know”, he smiles. “Since before the explosion my school closed because of coronavirus. But here, even while playing, I’m learning new things every day. They’ve taught me how to be more organised, and they’ve taught us all how to play better together. How to be better friends to each other. I’ve also learned a lot about how to live my life in the face of the virus. We’ve all learned the importance of wearing masks, or washing our hands regularly, and of using sanitiser”.

Abdulkarim’s conversation is drawn back to the day of the explosions. “Before the explosions, I was happy. We didn’t have much, but I was still happy. The explosions changed everything. The explosions took everything that we had here – our home, our school, our community. We were lucky that we still have our lives.

“Today though, I can feel things are getting better again. I’m able to do activities here, and I can see that people around me are less upset and less angry than they were three months ago.

“For me, as well as for my friends, having this park to come to has made a big difference to our lives. It’s a special space for us – it makes us feel someone cares. That’s enough to help me start to feel happy again!”

Abdulkarim’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 explosions.