In the spirit of human respect and support, Beit El-Baraka, established in 2017, aims to provide support and aid to hard-working senior citizens once they retire.
It works on three levels: the supermarket from where they can gracefully take what they need, their apartments that are restored for free and whose rents and utilities are covered, and medical treatments, such as dental care, medication, and surgeries.
Sounds impossible? Maybe, but that is all being done and provided.
Maya Chams Ibrahimchah, founder and president of Beit el-Baraka, is well-known for her activism and passion for renovating old homes and heritages. Maya decided to take it further and help the retirees, becoming the guardian of dignity for the retired Lebanese Citizen.
The idea of Beit el Baraka started when Maya met an old woman under the bridge of Burj Hammoud and sat down with her as the woman wept while narrating her story.
A retired teacher, the woman spent her life working in a well-known school in Achrafieh, and as soon as she retired, she saw her end-of-service benefits drop rapidly.
As life expenses increased, the woman was forced to look for a much cheaper dwelling she could rent, which she found in Dora for 75$ per month.
That also became soon unaffordable to her, and even impossible as the rent increased to 200$/month and she was with no job for having been fired from her teaching position. She ended homeless, in the streets.
When Maya met her, the old woman was already without a sheltering roof for 3 weeks; an educated teacher who had worked in a well-known school in Lebanon!
Deeply affected, Maya realized that she had to do something about it. She had to act and help those retired people who face poverty, abandonment, and harsh difficulties upon retirement.
She called on her friends and acquaintances to help her set up the supermarket, restore homes, and look after those seniors in need.
You can easily tip over to poverty,” Maya says to L’Orient le Jour. “People leave their job, and they begin to see their end-of-service benefits getting drained. So they start drawing from their savings, which also start to quickly decrease. Then some retirees end up having to sell their cars to raise some money and to save gas costs.”
“As a result, they start going out less and less. As time passes, they can no longer afford to charge their mobile phones, and they become increasingly isolated,” Maya explains.
“Then the moment comes when they can no longer pay their house expenses or their rent. These people, who used to live normal and dignified lives when they were working, fall into poverty and are forced to live on charity.”
The supermarket doesn’t only help the retired people, but also the environment. They don’t use plastic bags or carts, but instead, they use large cloth tote bags for people to bring with them whenever they come by.
Besides, its recycled wood shelves are filled with canned food, legumes, bread, oil, and many other products from well-known brands and companies.
For food products, many well-renowned companies are supporting including al-Taj Royal Mills, Taanayel Farms, Cafe Super Brazil, Moulin d’Or, Globus, Nestle, and L’Oreal, while the Lebanese Food Bank provides vegetables and fresh fruits.
To date, almost 328 households from Achrafieh and Karam el Zeitoun to Akkar and Marjeyoun are benefiting from the blessing of this supermarket!
For medical treatments, many doctors have been volunteering their services, and the Fayez Mouawad Foundation has been supplying the medications.
These elderly and retirees in need are feeling better about themselves, their dignity was given back to them and also their faith in humanity; all thanks to Maya and the volunteers.
“We have to work on fixing this issue affecting the Lebanese in our society. Many are still able to give back to society. Even though they’re at the age of retirement, they’re still physically and mentally fit,” Maya says to The National.
“If we can give them their dignity, and help them, they can regain the ability to support themselves.”
According to the 2016 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) poverty assessment, about 27 to 30 percent of individuals residing in Lebanon live beneath the national poverty line.
Regarding the renovation of houses, so far almost 15 houses have been fully renovated, and water heaters have been installed in almost 28 apartments. In addition to that, they have paid water and electricity bills for everyone.
The World Bank has estimated that about 200,000 additional Lebanese have categorized as living in poverty, with some 300,000 unskilled Lebanese youth facing unemployment.