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Karantina Hospital, Beirut – a story of hope

Karantina Hospital, Beirut – a story of hope

On August 4th, 2020, a huge explosion in the port in Beirut decimated the Lebanese capital. Among the buildings damaged was Karantina Hospital.

Thanks to a collaboration between Putney Rotary from London, and the Lebanese Rotary Club of Beirut Cosmopolitan, along with other global partners, Rotarians have made an integral contribution to re-equipping the hospital’s paediatric and neonatal operating theatre.

It is a story of how the UK Rotary Network contributed to a $391,000 Global Grant which brought together over 150 clubs and nearly 40 Districts worldwide – all this during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Putney Rotary became the approved Global Grant sponsor for Karantina State Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon

A small explosion, black smoke, fireworks and then the absolute terror of being caught in arguably the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. 

It was August 4th, 2020 when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Hangar 12 of Beirut Port in Lebanon exploded with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake.

Beirut City after Port Blast | Lebanon Explosion Destruction scene

Within a few seconds of the devastation, screams of the injured could be heard and grief-stricken cries mourned those who didn’t make it. 

Over 200 people died, more than 6,000 people were injured when buildings and ceilings collapsed, lethal shards of glass became daggers, windows shattered and doors were blown off their hinges. 

 

Ten firefighters burnt to death – three from one family, and 300,000 people were displaced from their homes. $10 billion to $15 billion in damages was estimated. Tragically, this was a preventable disaster. 

Lebanon has suffered across multiple generations, and we will rebuild our country again.” 

On August 5th, the day after the Beirut Explosion, a member of Putney Rotary, Agustina, who had Rotaract friends in Lebanon, asked our club to help augment their fundraising efforts. We immediately set up a donation page. 

Colin Mathews from our Putney club forwarded a newsletter from Beirut Cosmopolitan Rotary to President Lu McCance-Price, who got in touch with Beirut Cosmopolitan President Habib Saba to see what else could be done to help.

One out of four Lebanese people are refugees, with around 500,000 Palestinians, and approximately 1.5 million Syrians who had fled the Syrian war. “

The Rotary humanitarian ball had begun to roll.

Following discussions between the two Rotary club Presidents, it was apparent that Putney Rotary was aligned with Beirut Cosmopolitan’s focus on a long term project, the rehabilitation of the only public hospital in Beirut – the Karantina Public Hospital. 

This hospital, which serves the needy and provides for those with no private health insurance, was severely damaged in the blast as its location is only 900 metres away from the epicentre of the port explosion. 

In the UK, we’re privileged to have the amazing National Health Service and we can’t imagine what it must be like not to have access to healthcare in times of dire need. 

Lu invited Habib to talk to Putney Rotary on August 17th, and the club extended the invite to clubs in District 1130 and others. Word spread fast. 

116 Rotary Club’s around the UK have supported Beirut

At the same time, Beirut Cosmopolitan Rotary was liaising with Whitby Sunrise Rotary in Canada as the Global Grant International Sponsor, as well as with other clubs and Districts globally. 

Putney Rotary began coordinating what would become the cornerstone of the UK/Beirut fundraising campaign, talking to Rotarians across the UK about the project. 

The club established an avenue to donate funds to this sustainable project, to amalgamate donations from collaborating clubs and Districts in the UK, and minimise transfer fees.

Effects of port explosion in Beirut city buildings and historical houses

One out of four Lebanese people are refugees, with around 500,000 Palestinians, and approximately 1.5 million Syrians who had fled the Syrian war. 

When Putney Rotary first started their campaign on August 5th, one US dollar was equivalent to 1500 Lebanese Pounds (LBP) while on the black market, the exchange rate was approximately 6,000 LBP. 

Nine months later, the Lebanese Pound had lost 90% of its value and Turkey was threatening to stop the electricity supply due to non-payment.

Government electricity supply is invariably backed up by local generators throughout the country and has now reached a point where, on a daily basis, electricity is more often provided by generators than by the Government. 

In addition, water has to be trucked to certain districts in the country when there is no mains water supply. 

The infrastructure in the country is deteriorating to the point of collapse. Between 50% and 60% of the population now live below the poverty line. The situation is dire.

It is indeed a testament to the values, power and unity of the Rotary family worldwide.”

President Lu set up talks around the UK to mobilise the Rotary network and details of the campaign was published in the Rotary Great Britain & Ireland’s Humanitarian Service newsletter. 

The cogs of the Rotary Network were turning in the UK and across the world as a sense of unity. The collaborative spirit began to build momentum.

Karatina Hospital in Beirut destroyed in explosion.

President’s Habib’s presentations to Rotary GB&I clubs covered 11,000 years of Lebanese history in 11 minutes before leading up to the recent developments and his club’s plans in the aftermath of the Beirut Port explosion. 

This is the sentiment of hope and courage that has seen the people of Lebanon survive against all odds across multiple generations. 

Habib highlighted the challenges which lie ahead, but paid tribute to his people.

He said: “The people of Lebanon are resilient. The Lebanese diaspora of around 10 to 15 million has historically been an invaluable source of support to those back home, and they are helping now. 

“Lebanon has suffered across multiple generations, and we will rebuild our country again.”  

This is the sentiment of hope and courage that has seen the people of Lebanon survive against all odds across multiple generations. 

It was truly a pleasure to hear words of encouragement and support from the UK Rotary clubs, linking arms for this common cause.

President Habib added: “Despite the dire circumstances in Lebanon – with a political, economic and financial meltdown, capital control, a severe devaluation of the Lebanese pound, spiralling inflation, more than half the population living below the poverty line, and the Beirut Port Explosion which shook the nation – the silver lining has been the outpouring of support and comfort from around the world and specifically the global Rotary family. 

“With the benefit of technology, and in particular Zoom, we have entered each other’s homes, hearts breaking down barriers and misperceptions, drawing ever closer to each other. 

Despite the dire circumstances in Lebanon the silver lining has been the outpouring of support and comfort from around the world and specifically the global Rotary family.”

“All this in the midst of a rampant Covid pandemic, and all the while with grace, humour and good spirit.

“It is indeed a testament to the values, power and unity of the Rotary family worldwide.”

By leveraging our trusted Rotary network, they were able to assure individuals and Rotary clubs that the funds would go directly to the intended beneficiary, despite Government problems in Lebanon. 

There was also an additional guarantee that this fundraising campaign was being done under the auspices of The Rotary Foundation, via a Global Grant.

The target to raise $140,000 from the UK continued to accelerate. 


Here are some examples of fundraising coordinated across the UK in support of the UK/Beirut Campaign:

President of London Rotary, David Johnson, got straight behind our campaign and the club actively supported raising funds for Karantina Hospital and generously donated. 

David said: “The Rotary Club of London wanted to provide assistance as soon as the disaster in Beirut occurred. 

“The friendship between Rotary Club of Beirut Cosmopolitan and Rotary Club of Putney and their co-ordination effectively provided a delivery aid mechanism to a worthy project. 

“In particular, we were reassured that every pound donated would actually reach the intended recipients – this was critical.”

Elsewhere, Rotary clubs across Great Britain and Ireland support the Beirut fund-raising campaign.

These included:

  • Rotarians Mo Fahmy and President Michael Carras from Westminster International Rotary, in collaboration with Putney Rotarians, hosted a Lebanese picnic during lockdown.
  • Norwich St Edmund Rotarians held a street collection for Karantina Hospital.
  • Maha Shaharaka of London Rotary donated her birthday gift money to the Karantina campaign.
  • David Small and his wife Sally from Hedge End Rotary in Hampshire drove their classic car from John O’Groats to Lands End and raised money for the fund. 
  • During eight months of campaigning, thanks to Brit Valley, Downham Market, Exe Valley, Henley-on-Thames, Ilfracombe, London, Bangor Gwynedd and Slough Rotary clubs, along with Districts 1080, 1200 and 1040, they invited as many clubs as possible to attend our talks. This helped spread the word of the Karantina Hospital campaign.
  • Assistant Governor Dr Frank Hardiman from Purley Rotary rallied the clubs in his District leading to a donation of $11,000 from a number of clubs. He said: “This was such a tragic and preventable disaster that caused such devastation, I watched the explosion as did others with utter disbelief – how could anyone not be moved to want to help? It’s a tribute to my fellow Rotarians here in the UK with the support they gave that we were able to acknowledge the suffering and support RC Beirut Cosmopolitan through RC Purley. Having established contact with President Habib I was confident we had a club we could support, which as we know has worked tirelessly to support their community and be an example to us all as to what can be achieved if we come together. This is truly another example of Rotary in Action.”
  • Dick Nathan, Chair of Trustees of the Rotary Charity Fund of District 1130 transferred funds resulting from donations from clubs in London D1130.
  • As a result of the number of participating clubs from District 1130, they committed $18,000 to the project, which was matched by the Rotary Foundation to $36,000.

International Chair of District 1040, Carol Jordan, invited Habib to present at the Council Meeting at the end of January. Habib conveyed that the Global Grant would be locked in mid-February because of concerns that Rotary Foundation funds might be drying up.

With the impending deadline, the response from the clubs of District 1040, and indeed of all clubs and coordinating partners, was nothing short of admirable. This reflected the wonderful spirit of Rotary across the UK and globally.

Carol Jordan added: “It has been a real privilege to work together with so many inspirational Rotarians from across District 1040, Rotary GB & Ireland and the World.  

“The hard work and commitment shown by President Habib from the Rotary Club of Beirut Cosmopolitan and Louise McCance-Price from the Rotary Club of Putney is inspirational. 

“Once President Habib launched the appeal at the District 1040 Council Meeting, clubs across the District responded amazingly, reaching the target of USD 10K in just two weeks, matched by the Rotary Foundation with $10,000.

“This was a great global effort that we know will make a real difference to the people in Beirut.  It also gave us all a real opportunity to work with others, meet new friends and build meaningful partnership relationships on which we can build.”

It has been a real privilege to work together with so many inspirational Rotarians from across District 1040, Rotary GB & Ireland and the World.”

By St Valentine’s weekend, Beirut Cosmopolitan Rotary’s initial target of approximately $400,000 was reached. With the Global Grant application ready, it was locked on February 14th.

Just over a month later, on March 30th, President Habib shared the good news that the Rotary Foundation had approved the exact budget of $391,000 Global Grant for Beirut’s Karantina Public Hospital.

Dramatic Landscape of Ruins After Beirut Explosion

The paediatric ward of the hospital that was destroyed in the explosion has been rebuilt with the help of the Swiss Government. 

This will act as an interim ward until the final location for the paediatric ward in the new wing of the hospital is completed.

The new paediatric ward is scheduled to be ready in early August. The Global Grant medical equipment for this project is planned to be installed in time for the anniversary of the blast.

Once the new paediatric ward is up and running, the interim ward will be converted into the only Governmental dialysis centre for children, in addition to being a day hospital for children with cancer in Lebanon.

Dr Robert Sacy, Head of the Mother and Child Unit at Beirut Karantina Hospital, and founder of the NGO Assameh, wrote an open letter to Rotary clubs in Great Britain and Ireland, along with Beirut Cosmopolitan. 

He wrote: “After the blast of 4th of August we were devastated and without any hope concerning the future of our children in Lebanon. 

“Thanks to the international friendship, solidarity and support we were able to commence rebuilding the Hospital and on August 4th, 2021, exactly one year after the Beirut Port Explosion, the Mother and Child wing of the Hospital will be launched.

Effects of port explosion in Beirut city buildings and historical houses

“No words can express our emotions and our gratitude given the spontaneous outpouring of concern and support from Rotary clubs worldwide and in particular the significant contributions made by the clubs of Great Britain and Ireland as was conveyed to us by Habib Saba, President of host Rotary Club Beirut Cosmopolitan.

“We are humbled by your trust and your generosity. 

“To make it tangible just a few facts and figures are presented here: 1,000 children were admitted in 2019, 870 children in 2020.

“Thanks to the international friendship, solidarity and support we were able to commence rebuilding the Hospital.”

“Every year 250 surgical operations are undertaken on newborns. One month after the blast and with our makeshift set-up, we again started to receive newborns and children with horrific cases. 

“Children were admitted without any questions or conditions regardless of religion, nationality, ethnicity or colour. 

“UNHCR has described it as a lifesaving initiative. UNICEF has described it as a model project for governmental hospitals in the Middle East.

“In the name of all the children in Lebanon – be they Lebanese, foreigners or refugees – allow me to express to you my appreciation, gratitude and love for all the efforts you are undertaking in support of Lebanon.”

President Habib said that given the size of the budget and the scale of club and district participation worldwide, the Karantina Public Hospital Global Grant project was arguably a first. 

He explained: “It is indeed a showcase for the Rotary family of international collaboration and goodwill for a truly worthy cause – children.

“The credit naturally goes to all the Rotarians in Rotary clubs and Districts worldwide who have put their hearts and souls into this project and that have achieved so much in such a short space of time. 

“It is without a doubt that fellow Rotarians from clubs and districts across the United Kingdom have been an integral part of this project and journey from the onset.”


Fact File

  • Global Grant was submitted on February 20th, and approved on March 30th, 2021.
  • $391,000 for paediatric & neonatal operating theatre and paediatric ward equipment
  • Globally, more than 150 Rotary clubs & Districts participated.
  • From Great Britain & Ireland, 116 Rotary clubs, 2 Inner Wheel clubs and 4 Districts contributed. 
  • $141,000 of the total $391,000 Global Grant came from Great Britain & Ireland.
  •  Internationally, District Designated Fund contributions came from seven districts in Canada, UK, USA, Netherlands, Germany, Italy & Lebanon.
  • Post Global Grant submission, a a further $5,260 has been raised in Great Britain & Ireland from 15 Rotary clubs.

Read more about the UK/Beirut campaign on RC Putney’s website

Rotary Club of Beirut Cosmopolitan