Blast-hit Beirut district now a vision of hope

Beirut's Karantina district was one of the worst hit by the city's port blast last August - it's just across from the giant silo that's become a symbol of the tragedy.

But the sheer scale of the destruction didn't daunt Marc Torbey El Helou, a charity worker who has used a wheelchair since a spine injury in 2016.

"I understood that I have a mission now and I am on it."

Helou's charity, Offre Joie, or Offer Joy, has repaired Lebanese districts hit by war and violence since the eighties - Karantina itself was the scene of massacres.

With the Lebanese state now hollowed out by decades of corruption and failure, it fell to aid workers and volunteers to rebuild the city.

Offre Joie took on six blocks, the homes of about 350 families, in this low-income neighborhood.

"There are still many residents who have not returned seven months on. This is how vast the damage was and how much work was needed. But I think in one month's time, a large number of families will be able to go back to their homes and finally live in them."

Karantina is home to Lebanese, Syrian and other residents, a fire brigade and dozens of stores. All were hit hard by the blast that killed 200 people.

Lebanon's devastating economic crisis worsened the blow - Offre Joie's budget was trapped in the bank by financial controls. But donations poured in from abroad in cash, construction materials and containers of food.

Thousands of volunteers came too.

Now Karantina bustles with life and resident Vera Gaghelian says it's never looked so good, with its houses painted pastel colors.

"We never dreamed we would have a neighborhood like this. I have called it the French neighborhood because it looks like the elegant streets in France. Look, there is nothing more beautiful."

Another blow was the destruction of a church, which was damaged during the civil war and renovated in the 1990s.

Volunteers have rebuilt it yet again and worshippers gathered there for Christmas Eve mass. Helou said people needed a place of hope and prayer.

"I think the way to heal a tragedy like this is simply through love. When we love and give from the depth of our hearts, we will see that love is able to achieve miracles that otherwise could not happen."