The anti-corruption revolution outburst last October in Lebanon, called for the dignity of its citizens, values embodied by Beit El Baraka, an association providing financial assistance to Lebanese in difficulty during the crisis.
Maya Chams Ibrahimchah was not predestined to work in charity. After studying political science and international law, she worked in marketing and audiovisual. One day, while running an errand in Bourj Hammoud, a neighbourhood in northern Beirut, her path crossed the one of an old lady. “I was intrigued by this woman because she was very elegant, sitting with her suitcases, beautiful luggage. This woman didn’t look like a homeless person. She was very coquettish, well dressed. As time went by, she told me her story and I discovered that she had been a cinema teacher for years and that her pension simply didn’t allow her to survive”. A trigger that pushed Maya to found Beit El Baraka in 2018, an association which helps disadvantaged Lebanese.
Restoring disadvantaged Lebanese dignity
In this country with an ageing population, private sector pensions are often too low to cover elderly expenses for the rest of their lives. To help them, Beit El Baraka created an free organic supermarket, “Most of our beneficiaries have worked all their lives and can’t make ends meet today. It hurt my heart to impose meals on them. I really believe that freedom and autonomy are the basis of dignity. The supermarket allows them to choose whatever they want and pay with a point system”, explains Maya. Dignity is at the core of the association’s approach, which also participates in medical expenses covering as well as the rehabilitation of habitations, through the building site materials recycling and a strong network of volunteer engineers and architects. “One day, I went to pick up one of our beneficiaries who needed to go to the hospital for dialysis. When I entered her apartment I discovered another world. there was no electricity and I could feel the mould under my feet. It was crazy to realize that Lebanese people could live in these conditions.”
Promoting food independance and sustainable agriculture
A vision that Maya intends to enter in the long term through the development of agricultural and sustainable projects, “While Lebanon is at 75% an agricultural land, only 25% is currently cultivated. Lebanon is totally drowned in its imports and even the hummus that is part of our national cuisine comes from other countries in the Middle East”. With the generous donations of three lands, Beit el Baraka has set up an elaborate permaculture system from which it draws the products distributed to its beneficiaries, “Today, we grow salads, beans, lentils, we also have 200 hens, 125 goats for milk and cheese, fruit trees and beehives. Organic products that we distribute for free to families in need”. Organic farms that Maya wants to make collective and available to the surrounding farmers in order to create more opportunities for them, but also transform into cooking workshops by inviting great Lebanese chefs to share recipes.
Growing needs since the coronavirus outbreak
The association activity had increased since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, with the growth of the number of people living below the poverty line rising from 8 to 20%, at the origin of demonstrations in Tripoli and southern districts of Beirut where the starving population has broken the curfew “When our Prime Minister announced the curfew, he told the Lebanese people to stay home without providing any aid plan or food support to more than 1. 2 million Lebanese living on less than $5 a day, I thought, we have to do something”. With the support of the Lebanese army and other NGOs, she organized the distribution of 50,000 food boxes to families in need.
A costly mission that required the sterilization of the warehouse, the vehicles and the purchase of protective equipment for the working staff, but that the association managed to achieve 90% thanks to the support of the Lebanese diaspora abroad, as Maya says “When you are in charity, there are some small miracles happening so that you never end up in need. It’s surely the positive vibes you send that make you attract the right people, who support you financially.” In these boxes, seeds were distributed, maybe the hope to sow a lasting freedom for its beneficiaries who will be able to develop their own garden plot.