When Chaker Khazaal’s friend started sending him figures of coronavirus cases and deaths around the world every day, besides being stressful, it made him come up with an idea.
Why not count people with hope instead of counting death tolls? That is how the Candle of Hope initiative came about for the Palestinian author, who is in quarantine in Beirut.
The Candle of Hope is an app that allows users to light a virtual candle and tracks the number of people who do so around the world. The initiative, which started almost two weeks ago, has more than 38,000 candles lit, and for Khazaal it is an achievement he is proud of.
"We are living in a very scary time of despair. It's scary and we have the right to be scared," he tells The National. "The attitude of today's life is that we do not know what tomorrow is. Covid-19 made us think of today, of how we can protect ourselves and our families, so we wanted to create this space of hope and we are taking it day by day."
Celebrities are taking part
Lebanese singer and actress Haifa Wehbe was the first celebrity to take part in the initiative. Following which, celebrities from across the Arab world have taken part, including Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, Egyptian actress Nelly Karim and Palestinian architect Mohammed Hadid, among others.
In an Instagram post, Labaki has called on Oprah Winfrey, Salma Hayek and Glenn Close to light a candle as well.
Khazaal, who started the campaign by reaching out to his celebrity friends, is overjoyed with the response it has received so far.
"We are now the largest gathering of public figures in the Arab world," he says.
“I love the energy of this initiative. I’m co-creating things with people. I’m getting messages about collaborations and ideas, and that is the environment I wanted to create virtually.”
Bridging between the virtual and real
However, beyond lighting a virtual candle, Khazaal's plan is to translate the thought into action.
Numbase Group, the mobile service provider which is sponsoring the initiative, promises to help three people in need when the number of those lighting candles reaches a million.
"Once we reach a million, we are going to pick up three stories - stories that need an act of kindness and to experience hope," Khazaal says, such as that of a girl who is need of a prosthetic arm.
“Once you add this virtual candle on your phone, it is changing the life of a real person,”he says. "I can't wait to share some of the stories."
"Before this crisis, I was a planner," he says. "I don't want to be a planner; I want to be a dreamer."