Malak Yacout: Beirut’s “The Volunteer Circle”

by | Aug 21, 2020 | Changemaker Of The Week

The evening of August 4th was like any other for Beirut-based Malak Yacout. Then, buildings around her began to shake, pink smoke filled the sky, and a deafening explosion felt more than 270 kilometers away rocked the city. Instantly, 300,000 people became homeless, more than 5,000 were wounded, and nearly 150 died.

Malak describes the experience and the aftermath as “Soul-shaking. You used to walk the streets of the capital and find old abandoned buildings still bearing bullet scars from the civil war. Today, as you walk the streets of Beirut, the more “modern” buildings – if still there, look similar. Old, torn, worn out… bearing the scars of one flame too much. One crisis too much. One dream too much.”

Over a year before, Malak and a friend had begun building The Volunteer Circle, a skill-sharing platform to connect Lebanese volunteers to the causes that needed their talents. Believing that purpose married to experience is empowering, her desire was to give people paths to make an impact in ways that were most meaningful for them. Against the backdrop of Lebanon’s history of instability, the goal was also to create a community of people who were readily available to support Lebanon no matter what the future might hold.

And so, as the toll of this latest crisis became clear, Malak’s first thoughts were not of despair, but of service.

“Honestly, I just thought about how quickly I could mobilize our growing community to action. I felt we were really ready to respond and not only respond, but do it fast and in an organized way,” says Malak.

The Volunteer Circle had close contacts with over 150 NGOs, strong relationships in marginalized communities, and 4,000+ diverse and skilled volunteers. These factors made it possible for them to act quickly, listen to the people’s needs, and efficiently channel support. Every day since the blast, they have deployed teams of volunteers to areas where they are most needed. This includes people who are saving and restoring heritage that was lost, to those doing humanitarian aid, and even those who are serving in waste management. Directly in the wake of the explosion, The Volunteer Circle applied for and received a seed grant for their work to mobilize these volunteers around crisis relief.

One of these volunteers is Aláa Karanouh. Of her experience serving as a needs assessment volunteer, she writes “From door to door, floor to floor, building to building… We got into Beirut in ways that we had never imagined. We listened, we cried, we laughed. We shared stories with writers, historians, journalists, artists, artisans… and many survivors of the explosion. As we got to know them and connected them with resources and organizations to fulfill all their needs, we went through the entire color wheel of emotions.”

Thinking about the future, Malak is optimistic. Being part of an ecosystem of equally purposeful people is motivating, and helps her stay positive and continue dreaming of bolder innovations. She affirms that her community will keep powering through, no matter what, to build and rebuild a Beirut that is inclusive, safe, and resilient.

“Why else are we staying here,” she asks, “if not to fight with unreasonable passion?” 

If you are based in Lebanon, learn more about service opportunities through The Volunteer Circle here.

Written by Carolyn Ashworth