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News > Queen's College News > The Beirut Explosion - Soraya

The Beirut Explosion - Soraya

Soraya (IS) was in Beirut when a devasting explosion rocked the city. We sat down with Soraya as she shared what she witnessed and how her family stayed to help those affected by the disaster.

Vases fell off the shelf, the ground shook, chairs were thrown about the room, lights flickered, glass shattered, and the front door burst open. I heard sirens roaring and people screaming in the street. My mum grabbed my brother and me and dragged us into the hallway away from the window. I was confused and we did not know what was happening.  We thought it was an earthquake or a bomb but then when we looked through the window, we saw a large cloud of pink chemical smoke. 

Can you describe to us what you and your family experienced?

The day after the explosion my family and I were eager to visit the affected areas to see how we could help. We were really lucky as our house is in West Beirut and the port, where the explosion happened, is in the East of the city. Our door blew off and our windows shattered but compared to what we saw, we counted ourselves very lucky. 

There was talk of international aid coming but little immediate emergency relief. We feared that this would be seen as just another political turmoil in the Middle East but in fact, this was a mammoth humanitarian disaster. My family and I wanted to do something more. With the help of my Aunt in London, we set up a GoFundMe page with an initial target of £1000, we reached our goal in less than 24 hours and then it just grew from there. The power of social media had a massive influence on our fundraising story. Our page was shared on Twitter by newsreaders Mishal Hussein and Emily Maitlis and coupled with our friends and family, we were able to raise even more money. This is what spurred us on. 

We started by creating food parcels - people did not have water or electricity and needed to eat. We set up a tent to distribute this and people saw our efforts and joined in, with the whole community helping where they could. A man who needed food parcels as his house was destroyed offered the use of his pickup truck which was vital in transporting the 450 gallons of water and food we were distributing every day. 

Donations from GoFundMe page allowed us to offer food parcels, water and supported people as much as possible, but some people wanted to talk to someone - we were providing emotional support where we could. There are also so many other vital things that they needed like nappies, pad we also collected and delivered prescriptions and medication to the elderly who couldn’t leave their homes – we tried to do as much as we possibly could. 

One of the people who we helped was Fouad, a 40-year-old taxi driver, with a 12-year-old son and a wife. Fouad and his family were at home when the explosion happened, their house is around 500 meters from the site of the blast. While Fouad only suffered from minor cuts, his wife sadly broke her back.  She required an operation and stayed in hospital for over a month. We were able to cover the medical bills as well as rehousing them into a ground floor flat, as his wife was unable to walk unassisted. Donations to the fund also allowed us to repair Fouad’s taxi to allow him to continue to earn and support his family. He was happy to be back at work and his family are now living in a safer and more comfortable home. 

How has life changed after this Summer and what are your plans for the future? 

I was traumatised and shaken after what I saw this summer.  Coming back to Queen’s has been really nice, my teachers and friends have been so caring and supportive and the response to our donation page has been amazing. 

After Queen’s I want to study education and become a Primary School Teacher; that's my plan but I don't really like Maths, so I don't know how that's going to work! I have had dyscalculia, a Maths related learning difficulty, for a long time and it was one of my teachers who transformed the way I thought about school and work. She pushed me on the right track and helped me understand Maths! I would see a bunch of random digits and she helped me push through it – she was really inspiring, and this is why I want to become a teacher. 

I’m also really interested in Middle Eastern politics and am doing my Extended Project Qualification on the Beirut explosion and the political situation in the region.  I feel people just normalise tragedies, especially in the Middle East, but I want to make a big thing about this explosion - because it is! It shocked so many families and devastated a city that is very close to my heart and I want to do as much as I can. 

When I look back at this summer, I realise just how lucky we are. This experience has taught me that all of us, no matter who we are, can use our platform to raise awareness. It has proven that anyone can make a real difference in people’s lives, especially in their hour of need. 

You can read more about the incredible work Soraya and her family have done at

Soraya is pictured here with Linda, a 90-year-old woman who lives near the site of the explosion. Despite the damage, she was reluctant to leave her house as it once belonged to her parents and she lived there her entire life. She was one of the many people Soraya and the community were able to help.  

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