'I don't want to die': B.C. charities send aid to Beirut as survival stories emerge
VANCOUVER -- The Lions Club has already wired thousands of dollars in immediate aid, and more British Columbians are mobilizing fundraising efforts as survival stories come into focus for those with loved ones in the worst-hit areas of Lebanon’s capital.
Allan Hunt, a retiree in Chilliwack, B.C. who sits on the Lions International Board of Directors, says the organization has already wired $13,000 to local members in Beirut to immediately buy supplies for those who need them most.
"After the explosion they pretty much got out with what they were standing up in, so if they've got eyeglasses, they've probably got issues there. Medicine, clothing, food, diapers, water – those are all the things that are here and now immediate stuff," he said shortly after finishing a meeting on how they could get critical supplies to those who need it as soon as possible. "We can reach out to people around the world on a moment’s notice."
As his organization prepares for fundraising drives and other efforts to help with both immediate and long-term support for the people of Beirut, the Canadian Red Cross has started a campaign to fundraise for support dedicated specifically to Lebanon.
"Money raised will enable the Red Cross/Red Crescent to prepare for, respond to and help individuals in Lebanon affected by humanitarian needs now and as the situation evolves. Current activities are mobile health outreach, support to health facilities, and strengthening of health systems," reads the fundraising page. "These activities may evolve based on emerging needs."
A young woman in Beirut is grateful for the help of non-governmental organizations, who she credits with helping the country emerge from a protracted war and the long-term rebuilding efforts that were required – but she is eager to leave the troubled country and join her husband in Vancouver.
"All I remember is thinking, 'I don’t want to die. I want to talk to Mazan. It’s way too early for me to die. I have so many plans, and I was running," said Rawane Al Zahed, who adds her husband can’t even send her money to help with food or supplies since so many of the country’s banks have failed and other financial institutions have limited services in Lebanon.
She was having lunch with her in-laws about five kilometres from the blast site when the explosion tore through their neighbourhood, shattering many windows in the building and sending cracks through walls and doors.
"All I could hear was people screaming, people running, some people had their ceilings collapse, other had their bathrooms fall," she said. "I’m really glad I’m alive, my family are alive. I just have some friends which are injured but thankfully nobody is dead I know."
She has been trying to join her husband in Vancouver since shortly after their wedding in Lebanon in July of last year, but says the process for her visitor’s visa ground to a standstill as the COVID-19 pandemic saw government services in Canada and her country slow to a crawl. Lebanon had already been in the process of economic collapse before a surge in coronavirus infections further decimated the economy and medical system.
"I know lots of people who are stuck here like me and you can’t live here, not anymore," said Al Zahed. "People just want to live a normal life but they can’t."