In the aftermath of Beirut’s devastating explosion, many residents hit rock bottom, feeling defeated and hopeless. Juliana Sfeir, SAT-7 ACADEMY Brand Manager, shares how she was one of them – until she witnessed the response of the youth of Beirut, whose resilience and unity filled her with hope once again.
“The future lies in the hands of these resilient young people. Seeing these kids reacting to the crisis by helping each other, by being full of hope, it reminded me that yes, a future is possible – thanks to them!”
Juliana Sfeir, SAT-7 ACADEMY Brand Manager, has made it her purpose to equip children and youth in the Middle East and North Africa with hope, resilience, and perseverance for a brighter future. But in the aftermath of the explosion, Juliana herself felt ready to give up. She thought of finally leaving Lebanon – but then, she herself was given lessons in optimism and resourcefulness from the young generation she has served over many years.
The whole building – located far from the port in the hills of Beirut – shook from the explosion as Juliana and a guest sat in a meeting in the SAT-7 Lebanon conference room on 4 August 2020. The second explosion threw them both out of their seats and onto the floor – while at the same time, in other parts of Beirut, glass windows shattered, walls and ceilings came down, furniture and cars turned upside down.
“I am a child of war,” she says. “I lived through the war in Lebanon from 1975 up until 1992, and I know how to differentiate the sounds of explosions, shrapnel, bombs landing. What happened at the port was something that I had never, never experienced before in my whole lifetime.”
As everyone tried to reach their families in the minutes after the explosion, the phone lines were jammed as well as the Internet. For 20 minutes, Juliana could not reach her parents who live and work close to the port. When she finally managed to contact them, she thanked God that they were both safe. But their home and shop were almost completely destroyed, and most of their neighbours had been injured. As other stories of injury and death poured in from her friends, Juliana says, she hit rock bottom.
“I thought, ‘I don’t believe in hope anymore. I don’t believe in life anymore. What are we doing here? Why do we still believe in this country? Why do we keep hanging on?’” she admits. The streets were covered in shattered glass and rubble; around her, buildings looked bulldozed and vehicles upturned.
“I have spent 50 years in this country, experiencing one thing after another, and we have kept saying, ‘Tomorrow is a better day,’ But we have at the most two to five years of peace, and then – bam! All over again,” Juliana shares. “I had enough and was ready to take my family and leave the country.”
But then something happened.
WATCH JULIANA’S REPORT
Change of heart
On Thursday – two days after the incident – Juliana went to the site of the explosion to film a video for SAT-7. Fighting back tears, she spoke to the camera to describe the devastation and the hopelessness that surrounded her. But as they were filming, Juliana and the cameraman saw hundreds of young people walking in the streets, carrying brooms and shovels. The youth, from all religious backgrounds, were working together to clear the streets of Beirut.
“I had never seen anything like this before. After we finished filming by the port, we went to Gemmayzeh, where my parents’ shop is, to see what was happening. We saw more youth cleaning, distributing food, helping the elderly. They recognised we were from SAT-7 and offered us food and water. They kept saying, ‘God keep you safe, thank you for the work you do. We love SAT-7!’ I first thought, ‘Why are you doing this? It is pointless,’ but slowly, my bitterness and hopelessness melted away.”
As they drove back to the SAT-7 studio, the urgency to help equip the youth and young adults of Lebanon sank deep into Juliana’s spirit.
“I thought to myself that if the youth of Lebanon are willing to contribute, to help each other and their community, why should I be depressed or discouraged? If they are willing to work to rebuild their country, who am I to give up, or say it’s not worth it?
“We need to stand alongside them. We must respond to the needs of the next generation. We need youth programmes, we need to give them the food for tomorrow. We need to allow them to express their opinions and pass on the torch to them as the leaders of tomorrow. If we don’t work with them – if we don’t give them a voice – Lebanon will lose them, they too will leave the country. Let’s help them build on their resilience, hope, and strength, today more than ever.”
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