Family to Family Beirut: Hampstead mum’s £65k charity effort to help vulnerable after Lebanon explosion
PUBLISHED: 20:00 19 August 2020
For the past fortnight, a Hampstead mum has been co-ordinating emergency relief to those affected by the explosion in Beirut that killed more than 200 people.
Sarah Sakaan, who was in the Lebanese capital dealing with a family bereavement – her husband is Lebanese – when a huge blast in a warehouse destroyed much of the city on August 4.
She has raised more than £65,000 through her Family to Family Beirut project.
She told the Ham&High about delivering food parcels and clean water, how she has been helping the Lebanese people to begin to rebuild, and how her friends in Hampstead have rallied around the cause.
READ MORE: Teenage cyclists fundraise for Lebanon after ‘horror’ at explosion in Beirut
She said: “It’s two weeks since the explosion. People are still very much in shock and the city is just a mess. It’s not as bad as it was – the streets have been cleaned up, and most of the debris has been moved out, but homes are still in a state of disrepair.
“People are very scared. They have been through 15 years of war but for many those 30 seconds have done more damage.”
Sarah said the scale of the explosion was hard to comprehend.
“It’s like if zones 1 and 2 in London had been obliterated. It’s not like if something had happened in Belsize Park and you could take shelter in Hampstead. Three of the main hospitals have been damaged – it’s like if the Royal Free and UCLH had been bombed out and you had to travel down to Homerton.”
She was staying with her mother-in-law when the explosion happened.
She said: “We were just sitting there and suddenly we heard a blast, and didn’t know what it was. It shook the whole room. It was this almighty bang and we thought it must be an earthquake.”
As soon as the impact of the explosion became clear, Sarah and her family were determined to help.
“Simply because we were here, we knew we were going to do something to help, but we would have only been able to help one or two families,” she added. “My friends in north London, all of the school mums in Hampstead and St John’s Wood started to phone and ask: ‘are you ok, what can we do?’
You may also want to watch:
“All of those people really encouraged this.” Since then, the fundraising has surpassed what Sarah thought possible. “I thought about £5,000 would have been pushing it, but that would have been amazing. And we’re now at nearly £65,000. It’s really incredible.
“I would say perhaps a third of the money raised has come from Hampstead. There have so many extremely generous people in our networks.”
In the days following the blast Sarah’s priority was working alongside NGOs to get food to those who needed it. Now, she is helping to co-ordinate the beginnings of a monumental rebuild.
Her campaign is partnered with local charities Beit el Baraka and Nusaned.
She said: “The immediate relief effort was providing food parcels, and helping the NGOs. Now it’s the big projects and helping to repair homes. Many people don’t have windows or doors or secure accommodation. When it’s so hot – 35 to 38 degrees – it’s really hard, we’ve been providing four or five gallons of water to people just so they can do their daily chores.
“We’ve got a team of handymen together, too.”
Sarah, who along with her husband spent a month volunteering at a refugee camp in Greece during the refugee crisis, had a finance background before taking a break to care for her children – one of whom is set to receive his GCSE results tody. During the pandemic, she was involved in the Hampstead Volunteer Corps (HVC).
She explained: “I had been helping with HVC and worked in the food bank on a Saturday. That’s certainly helped me to put together food parcels here. This is on a different scale entirely though.”
Sarah and her family are now set to return home so her son can receive his grades and the family have time to self-isolate for a fortnight before the school term begins in September.
She said it was surreal to see the stress building around exam results back in the UK, adding: “It’s odd, we have been through explosion but what really makes me nervous now is the GCSE results.”
The family are planning to continue the fundraising back in the UK. She said: “This is a long term crisis, and it just can’t be fixed in a month or two months.
“The heart of this city has been put out of action.”
She said the next step is to encourage UK charities and the UK government to get more involved in the relief effort.
To help support the Family to Family Beirut campaign, visit familytofamilybeirut.com/
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Ham&High. Click the link in the orange box above for details.