On the 4th of August 2020, our two-year-old son Isaac Oehlers spent the day at nursery.
He was always excited to attend, as he loved seeing his teachers and playing with his friends. He spent the afternoon with his Dad, reading books and watching cartoons. Isaac was three weeks away from returning to his home country of Australia to see his grandparents and cousins. He was two months away from becoming a big brother.
We had moved to Beirut a year earlier when I was transferred by my work, the United Nations. Isaac was thriving in Beirut. He loved to talk to people and as we walked around the city he would wave at the locals, many of whom would stop and have a chat with him, which he loved.
But at 6:08pm on the 4th of August 2020 our world changed forever. Isaac was sitting next to me in his highchair. We were singing nursery rhymes and having dinner when the explosion hit. Isaac was struck by a piece of glass in his chest. We ran for help and a good Samaritan stopped and drove us to the hospital, however, Isaac died several hours later at Rafik Hariri Hospital.
Isaac was an outgoing, confident, brave, incredibly intelligent and affectionate little boy. He was a master at puzzles and loved riding his tricycle. Isaac was quickly picking up Arabic and French, despite the fact neither of us are fluent in either, and at two years old could already count to 25 in French, a feat that astounded his teachers at his beloved daycare.
He loved cats, lizards and butterflies and spent many happy hours at a garden near our home searching for all three. But above all, Isaac was loving and affectionate. Often, he would suddenly stop whatever he was playing, come over to me and give me a big hug and then go back to his game. We feel a physical pain at the thought we will never hold him again or see him grow and develop into the wonderful person he was destined to be.
Isaac was the youngest victim of the Beirut explosions, an innocent child who was in his home, the place where he should have been the most safe, when his life was taken from him in the most horrific way possible. Isaac deserved more from this world. He deserved to go home to Australia, to see his family, to become a big brother.
I have struggled to come to terms with what happened to Isaac, not only because losing a child is the worst pain imaginable, but also because of how it happened. It seems incomprehensible to me that my son was killed in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. In addition to losing our son, we lost our home, our belongings, our future, and our sense of security. I now have my newborn son, Ethan, who is nine months old and I despair at the fact that his introduction to this world has been dominated not by joy, but by grief and that he will never get to meet his amazing older brother.
As parents, the only thing we can do for Isaac now is to work to keep his memory alive and to seek justice on his behalf. To not fight for justice, would be to say that what happened to him doesn’t matter, that his life had no value. But he deserved a chance at life, a chance that was taken from him. We believe that the only path to justice is an independent and impartial fact-finding mission. We know that when members of the international community work together, justice and accountability can be achieved. So, we are calling on the international community to recognize that children who lost their lives deserve justice and to take up the cause on their behalf.
Children and families in Lebanon are still reeling from the aftermath of the August 2020 Beirut Port explosions. Together with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and a devastating recession, they are struggling to meet their basic needs.
UNICEF has been active in Lebanon since 1948 and since the explosion we have been working to reach every child, helping families to recover and rebuild:
- Rehabilitating damaged schools to help get children back to school
- Cash payments to help families meet their basic needs
- Addressing malnutrition and lack of access to clean water
- Mental health and psychosocial support for children
- Supporting the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and providing personal protective equipment
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