Beirut resident Ali Omar Hussein was surprised to learn, on his first day as a volunteer to remove rubble from the devastated Beirut port, that he would be paid for his work.
Hussein is unemployed, and his own home in the Karantina area also suffered damage in the blast. He is one of a number of youth working on an ad hoc basis to remove debris and rubble in the areas near the port.
The project, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the Community Support Programme, provides co-ordinated assistance to facilitate clean-up efforts.
It also provides employment to local residents in the devastated areas.
When Hussein responded to the call for volunteers, he said he had "no idea that I would be earning money that would help me fix the front door and windows of my house and support my wife and child".
"As soon as I arrived at the gathering site on the first day, a programme official told me that I would be paid $20 per day," he told Al-Mashareq.
"I was overwhelmed with joy," he said. "I worked six days at the port and the Karantina area and received $120."
The programme worked in co-ordination with five local organisations to select, train, equip and provide income for 341 temporary workers hired to remove the rubble from the worst-affected areas and dispose of it properly.
Students participate in clean-up
Students in the USAID-funded University Scholarship Programme from the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University also joined the clean-up initiative as part of their volunteer commitment.
The scholarship programme stipulates that all students engage in volunteer work and complete internships, in addition to attending leadership and career development workshops.
The Community Support Programme is a five-year initiative with $80 million in funding. It implements rapid response and community development projects in partnership with municipalities, civil society organisations and the private sector.
Media student Maria Bechara Alloun, 22, also joined the programme in order to replace electronic devices at her family's home in the Rmeil-Ashrafieh area that were destroyed in the blast.
"The explosion caused serious damage to our home and destroyed the electronic devices," she said. "I was anxious to replace them, but did not have the money."
"I was wondering what to do when I received a call from the Nahnoo organisation [a youth-led NGO that rallies volunteers across Lebanon], which offered me a job to remove the rubble from the affected areas," she said.
"I immediately went to work for a period of 20 days, at the rate of $20 per day, a total of $400," she said, which enabled her to buy the devices.
"The project was an important lifeline for us because we are all unemployed," Alloun said, pointing out that it provided a number of youth, herself included, with the opportunity to help out and make some money.
Help and support for residents
The Community Support Programme "established a mechanism for intervention aimed at helping the affected community", field supervisor Marouf Mezher told Al-Mashareq.
The goal was to remove debris piled up in the streets, while enhancing the income of residents whose homes were damaged by the blast, he said.
The rubble removal work was carried out in co-operation with five Lebanese organisations, he said, and 341 people from the region were recruited and paid to remove 4,400 tonnes of rubble.
Mezher said the initiative had "a positive impact on those affected, while we, as a programme, and USAID, achieved our primary goal, which is to help the local community, which really needs this support".
The Community Support Programme will continue to serve the most disadvantaged communities in Lebanon by continuing its repair works in the affected neighbourhoods of Beirut, he said.