On August 4, 2020, an explosion decimated the Beirut port and much of the surrounding neighborhoods. The staff at Safe Spaces quickly responded by offering emergency relief efforts. Our teachers, unable to teach full days due to Covid, traveled to Beirut to provide clean up efforts, pack nutrition boxes for hungry families, and offer emotional support. In the days to come, our director Ghaleb El-Charif spent hours in conversation with Beirut residents, looking for the best way for us to help. First, we partnered with Offre-joie to rebuild Lady Karantina Catholic Church, founded in 1830. This joint effort was completed within months, much to the relief of the many community members in the area who call the church home.
We also met Father Hani Taouk, who teaches political science at the university. As a priest, Father Hani had visited many of the residents in the area, and personally knew far too many of the victims lost in the blast. He started cooking on the street in a small tent and feeding as many of his neighbors as he could. Every day, more people streamed to Father Hani’s tent for meals, and soon, he had far outgrown his little street tent. He found a larger place to host his guests, but he was in dire need of commercial cooking equipment. Safe Spaces quickly responded and provided him with his entire wish list of items. And once again, we partnered with Offre-joie, who committed to repairing and painting the kitchen. When the kitchen was completed, he named it “La Cuisine de Marie” after his mother, and with a wink and a nod to Mother Mary as well. Father Hani feeds six hundred people a day.
When our U.S. Board traveled to Beirut in May 2021, we all felt such deep love and gratitude for Father Hani. His love for his neighbors is palpable, and worth emulating. We are so grateful our paths have crossed with Father Hani and we plan to do all we can to help him love our Beirut neighbors well in the days to come.
Safe Spaces Lebanon is a multi-faith non-profit that leverages the resources of faith communities and individuals in the US to empower refugees and others in need who are experiencing the devastating effects of war.