It’s the third Christmas since the deadly 2020 Beirut Port blast, but the memory of three-year-old Alexandra Naggear — one of the explosion's youngest victims — continues to spread solidarity in Lebanon as the country grapples with a devastating economic crisis.
Now in its third year, Alexandra’s Christmas Initiative has helped raise more than $70,000 and received food donations to help feed those in need during the holiday period.
The initiative has been organised by Paul and Tracy Naggear, Alexandra’s parents. They are two of the most prominent faces in the campaign for justice over the August 4 blast which killed more than 215 people, injured thousands and destroyed large parts of Beirut.
It occurred after a huge stock of ammonium nitrate, left in storage at the port for years, caught fire.
The blast is viewed as a symptom of the country's many systemic problems, including corruption and mismanagement — so far, no senior officials have been held accountable for the blast and a judicial investigation has been stalled for a year.
“It was difficult for us to come back to our apartment in Gemmayze, even back to the neighbourhood, after the blast,” Paul says.
“Tracy’s idea was; let’s do something positive and good that would allow us and the other people in our neighbourhood and in the neighbourhoods affected by the blast to come back.”
Gemmayze, a lively and popular area of East Beirut near to the port, was particularly hard hit by the blast and the impact of August 4, 2020 can still be seen on the neighbourhood today.
“We thought that cooking for others and distributing food during this period of the year — particularly in December after the blast where things were very gloomy still, it was a dark period for Beirut — we thought that it would be good to bring some hope, some joy to the heavily affected areas, and to ask people to cook from their homes and distribute food,” said Paul.
“So, this is where the where the idea started. And of course, for us it was doing good in the name of our daughter.”
Lebanon is struggling with the effects of a financial crisis — that first became apparent in 2019 — that has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern history.
Much of the population has been plunged into poverty, there are widespread shortages in basic essentials including clean water, electricity and medicines, and many have their life savings trapped in the banks amid informal capital controls.
“Our main motivation this year was to really bring back a sense of solidarity and, and responsibility towards one another,” says Paul.
“You can’t imagine … there is such a great energy around this campaign. There's 450 donors, which is huge.
“There's so many messages that we receive from people, the expats coming back, the Lebanese that are here that want to volunteer, that want to help in any way and are sending us messages: ‘You guys are giving us strength and hope during this time of year. How can we help? How can we contribute?’”
Moving forward, the plan is to better formalise and structure the good work being done by setting up the Alexandra Foundation.
“We want to do more, we don't want to do just food distribution, and gifts and toys for children during the end-of-year period. We want to be able to actually contribute to projects that are not only one off initiatives.
“So, we've set three priorities that our food safety, education and employment — particularly for women.”
And on Friday as part of the initiative from 11am to 3pm in Gemmayze, the Naggear’s have organised a blood donation campaign in collaboration with local NGO Donner Sang Compter — an association which supported both Tracy’s mother in 2014 when she was sick and when Alexandra was in the hospital after the 2020 blast.
Last Christmas’s campaign saw more than 14,000 meals distributed to families in need, 2,500 gifts and toys offered to children, and the mobilisation of more than 100 volunteers who came together to put everything into action.
Paul recalls the Christmases he has with Alexandra as “very joyful memories”.
“As for any kid, she was super happy. We used to make a big deal out of it.
“Every day for the week before Christmas, we put a small gift for her under the tree. She would be super excited … very joyful moments.”
The theme of the initiative this year is solidarity as the economic crisis tightens its grip on Lebanon and makes life increasingly difficult.
“That's the general idea of solidarity, responsibility. And all of that, for Tracy and I, is doing good in the name of Alexandra.”