On Friday November 6th, at precisely 6:07pm, three long and hard months will have passed since the devastating explosions that rocked the heart of the Lebanese capital. As bystanders it is hard to fathom what this nation has had to endure in its recent history. As the world struggles with the impact of COVID, the people of Lebanon have been forced to additionally contend with broken homes, lives, hearts and governments. Fight or flight is a natural response, and many have been forced to flee the destruction in an effort to protect their loved ones. As they often say, no one willingly leaves their homeland… Others have chosen to stay put, and fight.. Fight for a brighter future, fight for their country and for their livelihoods. There is no one that could narrate the Lebanese experience better than PR maven Mariana Wehbe . Her resilient nature forced her to stay behind, while her only child chose a bold and courageous path of temporary relocation, a heartbreaking move for Mariana. But as they say, when God shuts a door, he opens a window and that’s exactly the story Mariana relays to us.
Precisely 4 days after the explosions, Bebw’shebbek (which translates literally to door and window) was created. A nongovernmental organization founded by Mariana Wehbe and her dearest friend Nancy Gabriel, whose home was all but devastated in the explosions. It is at Nancy’s home that the video was taken of the little child crying, ‘I don’t want to die.’
Together the two have spearheaded an initiative with a very simple goal in mind: get people back into their homes. The explosions affected 80,000 houses, some structurally, others suffering from destroyed windows and doors that prevent more than 300,000 families from returning to them. The intention of Bebw’shebbek is to reinstall these windows and doors, in exactly the way they were originally built, thus preserving the architectural integrity of the city.
I have known Mariana for a few years now, and she always strikes me as a woman that acts from her gut. And as with any muscle that is regularly exercised her gut instinct has become stronger and sharper over the years. It was her instinct that told her to get up moments before the explosion, the same one that didn’t allow her to make a calculated decision regarding Bebw’shebbek, which would have probably resulted in a ‘it’s a cool idea but too complicated’. That’s the thing about instinct though, if you go with it and surrender, it will offer you solutions.. Over the next few days, it became crystal clear that Mariana and Nancy were perhaps the best suited to initiate this ambitious project. Mariana’s 15 years of logistical experience at DHL certainly factored in, as did Nancy’s strength in the procurement industry, additionally their impressive network of interior designers and architects. What they perhaps didn’t realize at the time was that they would also have access to funding. As the trust and credibility of the government demised, people were left to reach out to each other to send money to Beirut.
As I listen to Mariana’s voice notes, which make up our virtual interview I am overwhelmed by the change in my emotions.. At first I am rid with sadness and even anguish for the likes of Mariana who had invested everything..financially, emotionally and psychologically in their nation. In the split of a second, the lives they had been patiently fortifying were furiously shaken to their foundation, leaving them to question where to go from here. As corny as it may sound, a window opens in Mariana’s heart with the creation of Bebw’shebbek, her tone of voice changes. Hope has returned to Mariana, and like a delicate yet resilient vine, it creeps up, through the broken glass littering her path on that fateful day.
Mariana has always been a vocal supporter of the revolution, as she often says, ‘we can’t not do anything.’ Perhaps one of the most disenfranchised segment of Lebanese society is the youth, their future unclear and their prospects weak. The youth have always been on Mariana’s mind, what she calls the ‘nation’s army’. Their voices and energy necessary for the birthing of a new Lebanon. Overnight, with Bebw’shebbek over 120 volunteer youths were literally transported to the front doorstep of Mariana’s home, and that is when everything changed for Mariana.
What started off as a duty to her nation, become the passion project that she never knew she needed. As she introduces me to each and everyone of her 20 strong administrative team, she is describing her surrogate children. She calls these 20-something-year olds her kids, they have instilled in her, not just a sense of hope, but a sense of responsibility. Just like a mother, she is weary of the opportunity she has been given to affect change, and knowing Mariana, she will do everything in her power to do right by them. To instill in them her love of country, and the need for deep-rooted change.
Perhaps one of the most endearing exercises practiced daily, is the singing of the national anthem. What started off as a weak rendition, almost drowned out but the shuffling of embarrassed feet, has now been replaced by a boisterous ballad of pride and devotion to their country. Had Mariana looked into her crystal ball a few days before the explosions, she would have been impressed yet weary of the task at hand. She may have giggled at herself zipping through traffic in her moped, she may have wondered where her chauffeured Jaguar had gone.. She would have questioned her fashion sense, where are all your pretty dresses she berates herself? It’s incredible how a sense of purpose can override life’s little luxuries, making them not wrong, just untimely. Some may say the explosions were the final blow that brought the Lebanese people to their knees, I say, they are kneeling down to kiss their nation’s earth, because it is only when you have nearly lost something that you understand its true worth and meaning.
To date, the organization has managed to create over 30 active teams on the ground, with 364 completed homes, 186 in progress and 633 in the assessment phase. In order for Bebw’shebbek to continue its honorable mission, they need your help with funding. Please give generously, click here to donate.
Once again the nation of Lebanon suffers the insult of a corrupt system. One that cannot afford its people basic human rights that we all take for granted. And once again the people of Lebanon adamantly rise above the dense dark cloud. With dignity and pride they raise their flag, a true model of courage and strength for the world’s history books. Lebanon, you cannot be forgotten, you have taught us too much.