How We Can Help Beirut Right Now

Travelers can support the Lebanese people by raising awareness—and donating funds to the right organizations.

How We Can Help Beirut Right Now

Within three days of the explosion, World Central Kitchen and Tawlét were serving 1,000 meals a day.

Courtesy of World Central Kitchen

Beirut is close to many of our hearts here at AFAR. Immediately after the massive explosion that rocked the city on August 4, we reached out to everyone we knew in Lebanon with two questions: Are you safe? and How can we help?

Thankfully, our friends and colleagues in the country are, for the most part, safe. But they are far from OK. The explosion—“one of the largest accidental ammonium nitrate explosions ever recorded,” reports Nature—is just the latest in a series of troubles, including an economic crisis and rising COVID-19 cases, that have rippled across the country.

“We’re tired of being resilient,” said cookbook author and founder of Taste Lebanon Bethany Kehdy over email. “[We’re tired of] being told we’re resilient and that this too shall pass. We’re hanging on a thin thread.”

Here are the best ways to help support the Lebanese people, according to locals.

Donate to emergency kitchens

Kamal Mouzawak—hotelier, the restaurateur behind Tawlet, and creator of Beirut’s first farmers’ market—was in Beit Douma about an hour north of Beirut when the blast went off. In the week since the explosion, he has partnered with José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen to feed his fellow citizens. Here’s his story.

“I was unhurt by the explosion, but I ran to the hospital because my partner had a head injury. He is out of the hospital and out of danger.

“On Wednesday, a day after the explosion, we came to see what had happened to our [businesses]. The bed-and-breakfast was totally destroyed, and Tawlet on the ground floor was 20 percent destroyed. Our teams were cleaning the mess and we met to decide what to do. Obviously, we were not going to open the restaurant again in the center of a disaster area. But I thought, how can we close? How can we stop 52 salaries? But nothing else could be done.

“Miraculously, I received a WhatsApp from a guy named Chris [Kousouros] at World Central Kitchen, who I’ve met briefly before. He said, ‘I am coming tomorrow.’ I thought, Wow, our saviors. On Thursday, they arrived. On Friday morning [three days after the explosion], we had cleaned up the kitchens enough at Tawlet to start cooking 1,000 meals a day.

“We were able to re-employ our entire team and start bringing in different women cooks from each village like we used to do. We also have 20 to 40 volunteers each day. We are up to 1,400 meals now.

“Half are hot meals, which go to affected people, including elderly people in homes. It’s traditional food—heart-warming traditional Lebanese cuisine. And half are sandwiches for volunteers and people on the go who need something more practical. There’s a huge demand. But the food warms [people’s] hearts. And that’s most important. . . . I think we will be doing this for three to four more weeks. But then we want to transform the emergency kitchen into a community kitchen.

World Central Kitchen workers survey the damage in Beirut.

World Central Kitchen workers survey the damage in Beirut.

Courtesy of World Central Kitchen

“We have a commitment to producers, who make a living from selling at our Souk el Tayeb market, which obviously hasn’t been happening. We’ll close the actual Tawlet—and Souk [el Tayeb] is in a space that’s destroyed. We’re moving closer to ground zero, to the disaster area.

“We’re renovating an old car showroom—funded through our GoFundMe campaign—and in it, we will have Tawlet, our grocery store, and our farmers’ market two to three times a week. And the most important part, the heart of the whole project, will be the community kitchen we create, where we will be producing free meals to serve on-site and to distribute to different areas.

“We are starting construction on Monday and need to be ready to open by October 1. Because when we are all together, we are supporting each other.”

Donate to Mouzawak’s GoFundMe campaign.
Donate to World Central Kitchen, which has partnered with several Beirut restaurants and is currently serving 6,000 meals per day.

Share Lebanese stories

Bethany Kehdy, cookbook author and founder of the culinary tour company Taste Lebanon, was in Dubai when the explosion happened. Since then, she has mobilized to raise funds—and, most importantly, raise awareness about Beirut’s humanitarian crisis. Here’s her story.

“It was a close call for my brother and dad but everyone is safe, thankfully! The destruction did not spare anyone, and the whole city is in shatters. People are homeless and we’ve really lost all hope.

“This is a state of emergency and a humanitarian crisis unlike any other given the political and economic crisis that has been broiling as well. It’s never a straight path and in Lebanon’s case, this is even more true. God help us!

“We need the world’s attention, we need our stories shared, we need support and help to put pressure on this government, and we need the international community to put [government officials] on trial. We need the world to mobilize and be enraged the way they mobilized in [other] times of crisis, like when Notre Dame burned.

“While no one but us can pick up the pieces, we are not going to be able to overcome this corrupt political class without the international community’s attention, help, and outrage.”

Read more about the crisis in Lebanon via the International Rescue Committee.

Support locals who lost their homes

More than 300,000 people in Beirut lost their homes or were displaced following the blast. Impact Lebanon, a nonprofit organization focused on activism and social change, has partnered with the social initiative Baytna Baytak to raise funds to cover hotel costs and rent apartments for those displaced.

Donate to Impact Lebanon and Baytna Baytak’s crowdfunding campaign.
Donate to the Lebanese Red Cross.

>>Next: “We Are All Lebanese Now”

Aislyn Greene is the associate director of podacsts at AFAR, where she produces the Unpacked by AFAR podcast and hosts AFAR’s Travel Tales podcast. She lives on a houseboat in Sausalito.
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