On normal occasions, 17-year-old Lebanese-Canadian student Jaden Lawen would spend his summer in Lebanon with his family, but this year he had to stay home in Canada because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Usually, at that time, I would be around that [Beirut] area,” Jaden told CBC News. “I could have gotten injured the same as my friends. I could have died.”
After hearing about the explosion, Jaden checked up on his family and friends, all of whom thankfully survived and are doing well.
As grateful as he was for everyone’s safety, he was devastated over the tragedy he saw in the pictures that his friends in Lebanon shared with him.
A good friend of his, Michel, was actually injured by the blast:
Jaden knew he had to do something, so he partnered up with the Canadian Red Cross and launched the fundraiser Halifax To Beirut With Love to help the victims of the explosion.
Originally, Jaden started the campaign to raise $20,000 to help as many as he could of Beirut residents affected by the explosion.
On his fundraiser’s site, he states, “My wish was to be on the ground helping with my bare hands in whatever capacity I could. However, this was not possible due to the pandemic.”
As word started to spread about his initiative, it quickly gained attention. Much to everyone’s surprise, not only has he met his $20,000 goal in only 48 hours, but he managed to raise over $50,000, as of the time of writing.
“Just the support from Halifax is unbelievable. The number of people that have been reaching out to me, saying, ‘Anything you want me to do, I can help with,’ it’s just been amazing,” said Jaden.
The entire community of Halifax has stepped up to help. According to Jaden, the people of his city felt somehow related to Beirut’s explosion due to a similar tragedy that had occurred in Halifax in 1917, which they always learned about it in school.
“There weren’t really any videos of what actually happened,” he said about that tragic history. The Beirut’s explosion was for them “like a current-day Halifax Explosion … It’s just really heartbreaking, and it really hit home.”
Rebecca McLeod, a philanthropy associate with the Canadian Red Cross, told CBC News that she’s thankful for all of the community support that they’ve received since the explosion happened.
Jaden’s fundraising efforts didn’t just attract the hearts of the people of Halifax. People in Australia and the United States have also donated through Jaden’s portal, according to McLeod.
“It’s quite profound,” she said to CBC News. “It really shows how much he cares about his community that he’s built in Lebanon, and then also just how well he’s rallied his community here and there.”
Now that Jaden has exceeded his goal (twice!), how far does he intend to go with his fundraising for Beirut?
“I am currently at $53,000 and the new goal is to raise as much fund and awareness as possible, and continue until all of Beirut is rebuilt,” he told The961.
At that, we got to ask Jaden the question that is dwelling in everybody’s minds these days. Will the Lebanese expats ever return home after this massive tragedy caused by the rulers’ neglect?
This is what Jaden had to say: “I will absolutely come back to Lebanon, even before the situation is more favorable, to help my people. No matter the situation in Lebanon, it is my home and I will always come back!”
“I cannot imagine what the people of Lebanon are going through right now,” he shared with us. “I want them to know they are not alone, and people around the world are doing everything they can to offer support.”
Jaden also has a message to the Lebanese in the homeland: “Be hopeful and kind to each other, and know that better days lie ahead. Lebanon will rise again.”
Indeed, Lebanon will rise again, thanks to these great Lebanese people like Jaden, in the diaspora and in the homeland, who are going far and beyond for Beirut and its people.
Jaden’s fundraising is ongoing. If you live in Canada or anywhere in the world and wish to contribute, visit here.