Left Menu
Development News Edition

FEATURE-Community oven serves up meals, and dignity, in blast-hit Beirut

By Ban Barkawi AMMAN, Oct 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When a huge blast tore through Beirut on Aug. 4, Rawda Mazloum decided to move the giant oven she was using to cook for refugees in the Bekaa Valley to assist residents of the devastated capital. Today, the stove that has helped feed thousands of refugees and rehabilitate former fighters as part of a community cooking project, sits in a relief centre in Beirut and provides hot meals to people left homeless and destitute by the explosion.

Reuters | Updated: 20-10-2020 17:02 IST | Created: 20-10-2020 17:02 IST
FEATURE-Community oven serves up meals, and dignity, in blast-hit Beirut

By Ban Barkawi AMMAN, Oct 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When a huge blast tore through Beirut on Aug. 4, Rawda Mazloum decided to move the giant oven she was using to cook for refugees in the Bekaa Valley to assist residents of the devastated capital.

Today, the stove that has helped feed thousands of refugees and rehabilitate former fighters as part of a community cooking project, sits in a relief centre in Beirut and provides hot meals to people left homeless and destitute by the explosion. "When the blast happened, I decided to prepare quick meals and pastries. We took boxes of water and masks and went to the site of the blast," said Mazloum, a refugee from Syria who has been in Lebanon since 2014.

"Beirut has given me so much, I feel it's personal to me. It felt good to be able to offer them something," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Mazloum, 43, had been leading the preparation of meals for about 50 refugee and host community families through the Great Oven project, which encourages marginalised communities to cook together.

The elaborately painted two-tonne oven - which requires a crane to be transported - ended up under Mazloum's stewardship in the eastern Bekaa Valley in March, when the coronavirus dealt another blow to Lebanon's battered economy. Launched by Spanish-Irish chef James Gomez Thompson and Lebanese news producer Nour Matraji almost two years ago, the Great Oven initiative set out to help reintegrate former fighters and young militants in the northern city of Tripoli.

Sectarian violence still flares up in and around the city 30 years after the end of Lebanon's civil war, but the project has brought together old rivals, including former prisoners, to learn new skills and foster community ties. "We were trying to think of anything creative that they can also develop as a skill," Matraji said.

"They need to self-sustain... so we came with the oven, we train, we teach. We also link them up with the food donors so we make sure they're getting a steady flow of free ingredients," she added. 'INHERENT DIGNITY'

The blast in Beirut port, which killed about 200 people and left 300,000 people homeless, exacerbated Lebanon's difficulties amid a financial crisis that has sharply devalued its currency and pushed half the population into poverty. Dozens of other grassroots initiatives have sprung up to help those affected by the explosion, offering aid to rebuild ruined homes and provide emergency shelter and food.

As donor fatigue sets in globally during the COVID-19 pandemic, Thompson said the oven project embraced a more sustainable way of helping people in need. "(There's an) inherent dignity in being able to cook for themselves rather than having to constantly depend on handouts and that way they become agents of their own rehabilitation and their own food security," he said.

Close to where the oven is parked, Thompson and Matraji have set up a makeshift prep kitchen at the Ballroom Blitz, a Beirut nightclub put out of action by the blast. Where the dancefloor used to be, they prepare meals with dozens of volunteers and some of their project beneficiaries from Tripoli, including a former fighter who is now employed as a full-time chef and artist for the project.

The day's menu depends on what ingredients arrive in the kitchen from their food donor partners. It could be Thai rice one day, aubergine with pasta another, or their signature mac and cheese. With four more ovens now in the process of being decorated, the space has morphed into an art hub, with DJs frequently stopping by to play music as the team trains the next cohort of oven painters and cooks.

Until now, the project has been funded by Thompson but will eventually operate through sponsorship, with an endorsement to build and decorate an oven costing about $10,000. In the meantime, Thompson and Matraji are fundraising to install 10 ovens in the worst-hit areas of the blast radius by the end of the year. Tripoli and Bekaa will also get their ovens back - this time with a view to making them permanent.

Beyond Lebanon, the project is generating interest in Venezuela to help rehabilitate former drug cartel members, Thompson said. "I could also go to inner city gangs in London, in LA, in New York and say 'you guys don't have a community centre anymore, well why don't we build one around a massive oven'," Thompson said.

"Then we make it beautiful so they take ownership of it and it belongs to them."


TRENDING

OPINION / BLOG / INTERVIEW

Turbulence surrounding tobacco control in Ghana

... ...

Smart healthcare: IoT redefining the way healthcare is delivered

As the world is embracing the new wave of digitalization triggered by the pandemic and the arrival of 5G, the adoption of IoT devices will further boom. With adoption set to soar, IoT security issues and other challenges cant be ignored any...

Refugee compassion and response: Ideas to mitigate disasters now and in their future

Their homeland becomes a forbidden territory for them and more likely than not, their journey to foreign soil is no less traumatizing, not to say deadly. It is crucial to help refugees live a life of dignity and purpose....

Inadequate water infrastructure causes a tidal wave of coronavirus in rural Alaska

... ...

Videos

Latest News

Farmers gathered at Singhu, Tikri border points refuse to head to north Delhi protest site

Thousands of farmers gathered at the Singhu border held a meeting on Saturday morning amid heavy security presence and decided to continue demonstrating there even after being offered a site in north Delhi to hold their protest. Those gathe...

PM Modi visits Zydus Biotech Park in Ahmedabad

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday arrived in Ahmedabad and proceeded to Zydus Biotech Park of the pharma major Zydus Cadila to review the vaccine development. The visit is the first of his three-city tour to personally review the vac...

No govt in the world can stop farmers fighting 'battle of truth': Rahul

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the agitation of farmers against the new farm laws and said no government in the world can stop farmers fighting the battle of truth. The former Congress chie...

By using teargas, water cannons on farmers, BJP govt has shown its anti-people character: Akhilesh

Farmers are agitated at the anti-agricultural policies of the BJP government, but instead of adopting a positive attitude towards their demands, it was using teargas shells, water cannons and batons on them, Samajwadi Party SP chief Akhiles...

Give Feedback