LA City Hall lit in colors of Lebanese flag. Courtesy photo.

Wafa Hoballah, chair of the LA Beirut Sister Cities Committee and westside local, is calling out to the local community to raise disaster relief funds for the Aug 4 explosion in Beirut, which killed 137 and injured over 5,000.

The blast originated in a port warehouse that stored large amounts of explosive material and destroyed multiple neighborhoods, causing damage to homes up to six miles away. The GoFundMe fundraiser is a group effort with the leadership of the Los Angeles Beirut Sister Cities Committee and its President Tommy Tedros. It seeks to raise $100,000 for the American University of Beirut Medical Center, which is providing essential care for many of the wounded.

Hoballah has dedicated years of her life to growing cultural understanding and friendship between Beirut and Los Angeles. As a board member of the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles she has hosted international guests in Santa Monica for leadership training programs. Through the LA Beirut Sister Cities Committee she helped bring Lebanese engineering students to LA to study its infrastructure.

“As a Lebanese American part of what is expected when friends come from Lebanon is to tour them around and the first thing on my list is Santa Monica, the pier, and the 3rd Street Promenade,” said Hoballah, who in turn has also brought many American friends to her childhood home of Beirut. After years of sharing Lebanese culture and hospitality with the local community here, she is now rallying the same community to send support to Lebanon.

“Every single friend or family member who lives around the area has major damage to their homes. If they were there, they are injured. If it was a minor injury, they are lucky to only be injured that way,” said Hoballah. The hospitals in Beirut, which were already grappling with the pandemic, are severely strained by the massive influx of patients. Doctors are traveling from across the country to provide help and are even working with their phone flashlights during sporadic power outs.

“Imagine the trauma that you get from such an explosion. I mean I lived through the war before I came here and I can recall the impact of jets, the impact of explosions, the impact of snipers, and with all of that the city survived,” said Hoballah. I’ve been crying yesterday and all day today. We are bleeding and we are realizing that this country is no longer the same.”

This explosion is the latest in a series of devastations the Lebanese people have endured. The civil war Hoballah refers to was a bloody 15-year long affair with over 100,000 fatalities. Since the war ended in 1990, Lebanon has undergone a series of political assassinations, months of civil conflict, a 2006 war with Israel, and decades of political and economic turmoil.

This summer the Lebanese people were already grappling with the pandemic, a financial crisis, a large Syrian and Palestinian refugee population, food shortages, and protests over the government’s corruption. For many, this devastating explosion with its clear signs of negligence and mismanagement, epitomizes the corruption and destructive capabilities of the ruling class .

“Lebanon is a piece of heaven that is sitting there in the Mediterranean and unfortunately because of God knows what corruption and a dysfunctional system of government and representatives, they bled the blood out of this country. The people are tired. Imagine fighting, and fighting, and fighting, and fighting. They have no energy. The devastation is beyond words,” said Hoballah.

Hoballah and her fellow members of the LA Beirut Sister Cities Committee are urging people to give whatever money they can to the GoFundMe campaign, which will help provide essential medical care to many of the injured. In the past year the Lebanese dollar has lost 85 percent of its value, which means that every American dollar is incredibly valuable in Beirut and even a small donation will go a long way.

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