Recognizing Women: Giving Back in Lebanon

CNEWA recognizes the contributions of women to our mission in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable throughout the world. Today, and for the rest of March, we are highlighting the stories of women in CNEWA’s world, as told in ONE magazine and on our blog through the years.

When the Beirut port blast hit on 4 August 2020, Gassia Fahed’s life was drastically altered. She and her family, who frequently cared for the less fortunate, were suddenly in need themselves.    

Below is an excerpt from ONE’s Autumn 2020 story “Faith Is the Only Thing We Have Now.” The full article may be accessed here.

Gassia Fahed will never forget the day.

It was just after 6 p.m. on 4 August. She and her nearly 2-year-old daughter, Heaven, were alone in their apartment, about five miles from the port of Beirut. Her husband, Issac, was not at home. Mrs. Fahed heard the explosion and went to the balcony to see what was happening.

“I saw this huge mushroom cloud in the sky,” she recalls. While rushing inside to get her phone to call her husband, the second explosion erupted. Glass from the windows shattered all around, falling on her daughter, who was sitting on the couch.

“Jesus protected her, truly. There was not even one scratch on her,” Mrs. Fahed exclaims, her eyes still wide with amazement.

It was a moment now etched in her memory — and in Lebanon’s history. The explosion was one of the largest non-nuclear blasts ever recorded, with buildings damaged more than 12 miles away. The blast is blamed on 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate stored for years in a warehouse.

As of 30 August, the disaster had killed 190 people, injured more than 6,500 people and left more than 300,000 people homeless. In addition to thousands of damaged homes, 159 schools were damaged, several churches, six hospitals and 20 health clinics. More than 70,000 workers are estimated to have lost their jobs as a result of the catastrophe.

For Lebanon, it is one more painful wound in the country’s long history. But for Mrs. Fahed, and many others in the country, the explosion was another reminder of the fragility of life.

Early in their relationship, before they were married, Issac and Gassia Fahed began a tradition: choosing not to exchange gifts at Christmas.

“Instead, we decided that we will make others happy — needy people,” Mrs. Fahed explains.

They approached the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation, a non-profit community and health center in Beirut’s predominantly Armenian neighborhood of Bourj Hammoud, asking to be provided with the names of two or three families with children, as well as those families’ specific needs. The reason they selected Karagheusian, Mrs. Fahed says, is because it is “one of the most trusted organizations in Lebanon. The management and staff, the group of people that work with Karagheusian are dedicated and committed. And I know that whatever they receive — every drop of water — they give to the needy.”

Issac dresses as Santa Claus, and the couple visits the families.

“We went and spent time with them and gave them gifts. Our target was to not only help them financially, but to bring them love and joy. We told them about Jesus, and that Christmas is the season for giving and how God sent his one and only son to the world,” Mrs. Fahed explains.

“We enjoyed it so much, we did it at Easter as well,” she adds.

“Now, instead of helping the needy, we are the needy,” she says, her eyes welling with tears. “I couldn’t have imagined that the roles would reverse like this.”

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