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Because Hamiltonians Fight Disaster: Elza Harb ’18


Her approach was both inspired and informed, and it also proved to be effective. Within 12 hours Elza Harb ’18 raised $2,000 to help victims of a massive explosion Aug. 4 that devastated the city of Beirut. All told, she brought in roughly $7,000 in 10 days.

“It just snowballed. It’s crazy,” says Harb, who was born in Lebanon and lived there until she was 8 years old.

She and her parents saw the explosion on television, fairly sure, though not sure enough, that their relatives were OK because they didn’t live near the blast. The Harbs wondered if there’d been a bombing or a war had begun, but soon learned that their family was fine and that 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate had blown up in a warehouse. All the same, the explosion killed more than 200 people and left some 300,000 homeless.

The suffering was immense, and Harb wanted to do something to help. She thought first of donating the proceeds from her mom’s small business making face masks, but then landed on simply asking people she knew for donations through email and social media.  

Knowing that Lebanon is in a currency crisis, Harb wanted to use cash for her relief project. She had to raise money fast because a cousin was about to leave for Lebanon, and he could convey the funds. Corruption is a major problem in the country, she says, and she knew her relatives could get the money directly to those in need.

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Harb would have been happy to raise $500, and when many times that amount rolled in, she had another idea: What if she organized two of her younger cousins to get aid to people who had been displaced from Beirut? She could send later donations via Western Union, which temporarily waived its fee. 

Her cousins stepped up — and enlisted the help of pretty much their entire high school class to buy and distribute medical supplies and food through local food banks. Her Hamilton connections stepped up, too, and Harb is grateful for the outpouring. All in all, the response has been bracing in a very tough year, from domestic U.S. politics to the pandemic, says Harb, who attends a master’s program in international relations and economics at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. At Hamilton she majored in history.

“It gave me more faith in humanity, in a way,” she says about the response to her request for help.

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