Beirut Port Explosions 6-months on, and Karantina’s children continue to reclaim their lives

Abdulkarim’s story is one of many examples of progress and renewed hope from the city of Beirut where UNICEF has supported thousands of children, parents and caregivers impacted by the explosions

Simon Balsom
Abdulkarim, 10 years, at Al-Karantina public garden
04 February 2021

Six months ago, the port explosions turned the lives of thousands of Beirut’s children and their family’s upside down. As the shockwaves rolled across the city, they took with them more than 200 lives and stripped hope from tens of thousands of others.

For those closest to the port, their lives were affected to a great extent. Home to some of Beirut’s most vulnerable communities, they lost homes, jobs, possessions, schools, hospitals and, taken from many, family members. It would be a long road to rebuilding these shattered lives and, for UNICEF, the solution demanded a multi-sectoral approach.

As the first days of 2021 tick slowly past, the people of Karantina – on the edge of the port and amongst the hardest-hit areas – have come to terms with their harsh reality yet are facing it with renewed hope.

The children on its streets are now familiar to us and, since 4 August 2020, much has changed on both their faces and in their neighbourhood. The fabric of buildings is mostly repaired, and those running in circles around us now radiate youthful exuberance.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, UNICEF implemented an integrated emergency response plan to support thousands of affected families and their children’s health and safety.

For children such as Abdulkarim, UNICEF established a safe and child-friendly space in Karantina’s municipal park. Working with local partners, it quickly began a programme of psychosocial first aid and psychosocial support sessions.

Karantina residents rebuilding their houses in Beirut, Lebanon.

In common with his friends and almost every child in Karantina, this young boy possesses little, yet today clings to the promises of a better future.

He recalls how his parents were unwilling to speak with him about the explosions and how, instead, he received support during his daily visits to the park.

Abdulkarim still hangs out around the park, although he talks less about the events of 4 August and more about when he’ll be able to go back to school.

“I try not to think about my life before the explosions”, he says, “so I spend my time thinking about the future for my family and me. I want to return to school as soon as possible”, he smiles. It’s a sentiment echoed by his friends. “We’re all ready for school as soon as they call us back!”

While UNICEF has committed to rehabilitating 90 damaged schools in Beirut, the COVID-19 pandemic may extend Abdulkarim and his friends’ frustration a little longer still.

His generation deserves not to be remembered as one whose lives were permanently scarred by the effects of the explosions, but instead as one lifted out of darkness and hopelessness into a life of education, health, and protection by a wider community who sought to empower those impacted by ensuring a continuation of every child’s rights.

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 impacted by the port explosions.