There is plenty of life in Karm Al Zeitoun, one of the suburbs of Beirut in the district of Ashrafieh, a name which means “Mount of Olives”. The streets are narrow, and the movement of cars and pedestrians results in little bottlenecks on every corner – and especially around the small dispensary run by the Daughters of Charity, from which the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation ACN International is helping to support 350 families affected by the explosion.
The quarter was originally populated by Armenians fleeing the genocide of 1915. They were followed later by Syrians and Palestinians, likewise fleeing war and persecution. And in the last few years immigrants from many different countries, mostly Ethiopians and Bangladeshis, have found shelter in this humble quarter, home to the poorest people and still a place with Christian roots. Its ancient houses rub shoulders along its winding alleyways, while the results of the recent building boom, the modern tower blocks built all round Karm Al Zeitoun, have massively forced up prices in the area and compelled most of the young people to move away to more affordable areas. The only people now left in Karm Al Zeitoun are the old people and the immigrants.
There are many people milling around the small entrance door to the Mother and Child Protection Centre. Established originally in 1959, it is today one of the six centers from which the ACN emergency aid parcels are being distributed for the families most severely affected by the explosion on 4 August. Altogether they are helping over 5,800 families. The Daughters of Charity have undertaken to distribute this aid to 350 families; there are 70 of them here today. The two boxes of aid provide sufficient food for five people for a month. They are heavy, weighing 32 kg, and many of the families claiming them have come with little carts, or in the hope that some acquaintance or relative will help them with their car. This is one reason why there is more traffic than normal today, making it difficult to make one’s way through the narrow alleyways of Karm Al Zeitoun.