At a time when many in the city of Beirut feel helpless, there is a glimmer of hope shining on those who were affected by the tragic explosion in Beirut on 4th August 2020. That hope comes in the form of Maya Ibrahimchah, Founder of the non-profit charity organisation Beit El Baraka. Maya founded Beit El Baraka in 2019 with the mission of helping to offer security to those in Lebanon struggling with the economic crisis and the growing cost of living. After recruiting a team of social workers, creatives, managers and farmers, Maya set about providing food, education, housing and more to those in need throughout the economic crisis.
Then on August 4th 2020, everything changed. When the unthinkable explosion happened in the Beirut port Maya and her company immediately got to work assisting those who were hurt or had lost everything in seconds on the warm summer evening. Through independent funding and donations, Beit El Baraka has been able to help rebuild the homes of over three thousand people, providing food, water, shelter and education to those affected. Maya and her team have worked tirelessly on the ground every day since the explosion to help try to rebuild and create hope amongst the Lebanese people.
But the work is far from done. Without international aid, the people of Beirut will never be able to return to what it once was and hundreds of thousand so of people are still homeless. This paired with an economic crisis and global pandemic and it doesn’t even bear thinking about. Maya Ibrahimchah explains what still needs to be done and how we can all help contribute to her the work Beit El Baraka is doing.
The devastating explosion in Beirut affected us all but you have been there on the ground – what is the feeling amongst the people of the city today?
There are mixed emotions. On one hand, you feel the devastation, but on the other, you feel the love and solidarity of the people. I’m not sure if people actually realise what happened to them, to us. It was the third strongest explosion ever in the world. Did we realise that? I’m not so sure. So you can add denial to the list too.
Talk us through some of the ways you have been able to help those affected so far?
While the atrocities of a humanitarian tragedy add to Lebanon’s extremely critical livelihood and economic situation, Beit el Baraka’s team immediately mobilised to assist some of the devastated families. With countless people left homeless and traumatised, we expanded our team and multiplied our efforts to provide an emergency home rehabilitation programme that aims to repair as many homes as possible in the devastated areas around the Beirut harbour and to provide nutritious food and medicine. We are helping to fix and rebuild 3,011 homes and we are rehabilitating 168 small shops and refilling their shelves with free merchandise for them to sell. We have also set up a psychological support unit, partnering with specialised therapists, that invites adults and children to visit.
What still needs to be done?
International funding is a must. It is impossible to repair an entire city with private donor money. We have severe structural damages, and 300,000 people have been left homeless. We also have a government that failed in responding to the urgency of the situation. We need international financial aid to move forward. There should also be support for students who can no longer to pay their tuition fees and have no homes to study from. And last but not least: there should be justice. A catastrophe of this magnitude cannot be left unaccounted for. Somebody has to pay. People need to heal. And no one can heal without sanctions on those who let this happen.
Who are the people Beit El Baraka is recruiting to help at this time?
We were lucky to recruit some of the best engineers, architects and contractors, and a large team of over 200 volunteers.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing today?
It’s the financial challenge. We are rebuilding three huge sectors with 3,011 apartments, homes and 108 shops, but the funds we are receiving will never cover the actual needs. There should be support from governments or international Institutions who are willing to help in the reconstruction of Beirut.
What inspires you or keeps you motivated during this time?
The youth. I love them, and I believe in their capabilities. If the government doesn’t want to give them a chance, the civil society should.
Lebanon was facing tragic circumstances before the explosion now things are even worse – in your opinion, where do we go from here? We hit rock bottom. So the only way is up. What happened was not just the physical explosion. It’s the explosion of a corrupt system that has been there too long. Nothing will ever be the same after 4 August 2020. The fear is gone, forgiveness has gone too. We, the Lebanese people are rebuilding the country ourselves, the way we want it. We will not repeat the same mistake of 1993 and we no longer tolerate any form of corruption. Regional politics and international allies have nothing to do with our day to day life: the bad infrastructure, the lack of power supplier, the theft, the clientelism, the bribery, the environment…. what do these things have to do with anything?! From now on, we want a dignified life, and we are going to have it.
Since the tragic explosion has there been any moments where you have seen a glimmer of hope of some positivity to come out of this?
I have never been more hopeful.
On a wider scale, what did you hope to achieve when you founded Beit el Baraka?
I hoped to set up a place where people could come and feel safe. It is very destabilising to live in a country where you have no rights, no support, no pension and no security. It infuriates me when a father comes to us asking for help to buy his daughter’s school books, or when a pensioner asks us for medicine or a mother for baby formula. Corruption has seriously taken a toll on our sense of being.
Can you share with us some of your biggest achievements so far?
In 1 year, we have grown from helping 328 beneficiaries to 182,000, we have kept our overheads at less than 2% of our budget, we have created a large community of beneficiaries who feel safe and loved and we have started harvesting organic fruits and vegetables, which enables us to offer nutritious fresh food to hundreds of additional families. We are also producing organic dairy products and eggs, and producing our own bread. This enables us to become more sustainable, to offer a higher quality of food.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, we were able to raise one million dollars to distribute food to 50,000 families in despair all over Lebanon. We have treated close to 1,000 patients. We were able to keep 93 families from getting evicted and we now paying their rent. And now, we are repairing 3,011 homes and 200 small businesses devastated by the blast. We have also launched a new service to help Lebanese families with education.
In this issue we are talking about success – what does success mean to you?
Success is when the people working with you reach their target and achieve their goal, in harmony and happiness.
With all successes comes failures and setbacks – how do you deal with this and stay motivated?
Almost all my setbacks are somehow caused by corruption and by the failing system of governance. But my source of motivation is that we are able to make a change. As small as they may be, the changes we are making are impacting so many people’s lives, especially the youth, and that’s what matters.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in life?
Justice always prevails, no matter what. We just need to patient.
What is the motto that you live by?
To live a good life and leave something behind. I always tell the young women I work with not to settle for just a good marriage or a small career. Anybody can do that. The important thing is to leave something behind, make a change, have a positive impact on your society. Give your life a large and powerful meaning and most of all; live a vibrant life!
What is a message you would like to share with our readers on how they can get involved and help those suffering during this time?
The first message is that we all need to help; we all need to get involved. The best way to do that is to support local NGOs working on rehabilitating devastated homes and businesses, offering financial, moral and medical support.
For more information on how to help contribute to the working being carried out by Beit El Baraka to help those affected by the Beirut explosion visit: https://www.beitelbaraka.org/