Mohamad Fakih is CEO of Paramount Fine Foods
On Aug. 4, 2020, an explosion at the port of Beirut killed more than 200 people and left 300,000 homeless. This preventable tragedy brought chaos, hardship and grief.
I rushed to Lebanon in the aftermath – working to draw international awareness and deliver aid, much of which came from Canadians eager to help those in need. Some Lebanese held out hope that this attention and assistance would trigger desperately needed renewal and reform within the country’s government and economy.
One year later, I returned to Beirut to check on my parents and on the city where I grew up. What I saw broke my heart. The world’s interest has faded. The challenges on the ground are multiplying. Lebanon is descending toward economic collapse.
Unemployment has skyrocketed. Fuel is scarce. The currency has lost most of its value. Common imported goods can no longer be found. With runaway inflation, even staples like bread are becoming too expensive to afford. Tensions are rising as people try to figure out where they will find their next meal.
How grave is the situation? During my visit, I was approached by a woman who offered me her house in exchange for a plane ticket to Canada. She still loved Lebanon. It had always been her home. But you can’t live on love of country.
I met another man who had traveled all the way to Lebanon from Turkey to deliver medication to his parents. Pharmaceuticals are increasingly scarce in Lebanon. Given the state of need, the man didn’t trust that a couriered package would even reach his family. He had to come himself. He had to put the pills in his parents’ hands.
Canadians have shown incredible generosity by providing more than $50-million in aid to Lebanon since the explosion through both private and government contributions, directed to agencies on the ground that can ensure help is received where it is most needed. Some aid efforts are still in place to help people. Lebanon Strong has launched a campaign to send tens of thousands of tins of baby formula overseas this summer. It’s a small but meaningful way to help families in dire need.
Ever since I was a boy, often playing beside the same port where the explosion occurred, I have heard people speak of Lebanon’s potential. But its day never seems to come.
Instead, the same factions and families maintain a hold on power, despite their many failures. They must step aside. They don’t build up Lebanon – they hold it back. They call for unity while playing favourites. They engage in petty internal squabbles even as the country they purport to govern descends into unprecedented crisis.
Their impact will be felt for generations. Their legacy will be a squandered birthright and the country’s financial decline.
Lebanon is the country of my family and my childhood. Like many Lebanese here in Canada, I feel the pain of our people during times of suffering and crisis. Lebanon has always been resilient – but even the toughest people have their limits.
It is a helpless feeling to watch your homeland unravel. Lebanon needs change from top to bottom. My dream is that my homeland finally gets what it needs.
I dream of a Lebanon that is, at long last, a land of opportunity – a place where leaders are chosen and valued first and foremost for their service to community and country.
I dream of a Lebanon where more people choose to stay and build a career and a family because they can see a way to fulfill their professional and personal goals. And where many of those who left – people like me – are inspired to return, because they know they can live their best life there.
Most of all, I dream of a Lebanon guided by new voices, new ideas and new leadership. That is the path to recovery. That is the hope for the future.
Today, this dream seems further away than ever. But sometimes, even in the darkest hours, dreams can come true.
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