A 17-year-old Halifax student who’s already raised tens of thousands of dollars for relief efforts in Beirut hopes to keep the conversation going as the recovery continues.
Jaden Lawen, who’s going into Grade 12 at Sacred Heart School, was born in Canada but travels to Beirut during the summer.
He didn’t go this year because of the pandemic, so when he learned of this month’s explosion – which left 190 dead and 6,500 injured – his mind immediately went to friends and family.
“First thing I do is I text my aunt, see if she’s OK,” said Lawen. “Luckily she wasn’t in the area … but two or three days later I come to find out two of my friends were actually injured in the blast.
“I didn’t believe it was real. I didn’t know what to do.”
Lawen says it didn’t take long for him to realize he needed to do something. He wanted to fly to Lebanon and help with relief efforts, but was limited by the pandemic.
That’s when he decided to raise money instead.
“Initially everyone was just posting on Instagram, just like trying to spread awareness, so I was just like there must be something more I can do,” said Lawen.
He created the website ‘To Beirut with Love,’ with donations going directly to supporting Canadian Red Cross efforts in Lebanon.
Before he knew it, donations started pouring in.
“In the first 48 hours, as a community we raised $20,000,” said Lawen. “Now we’re almost at $80,000.”
Donations have been coming in from as far away as Australia. But Lawen says the support is representative of Halifax’s strong ties to the Lebanese community.
“The support that I got from Halifax and from the greater community in general is just unbelievable,” he said.
Lawen says he’s noticed people in Halifax aren’t talking about the Beruit recovery effort as much these days – something he’s looking to change.
“People of Beirut are still going to need help,” he said. “Even a year from now. The buildings are still destroyed, and they’re still being rebuilt.”
The money Lawen raises is going directly to humanitarian aid, including food, water, temporary shelter, medicine and other emergency services.
He’s hoping to get in contact with someone in Lebanon in the near future and see how the donations are having a direct impact.