August 4, 2020: Marie’s Kitchen

Sitting in a circle, the parents of the victims of the monstrous explosion at the port of Beirut discuss their next actions (as we were told of the fateful collapse of the silos) in the courtyard of Marie’s Kitchen, their headquarters in Karantina, founded on August 8, 2020 by Father Hani Tawk. It is around him that the broken hearts revolve. And yet, the one who gives without counting has gone through more than one hell. His Kitchen has become a refuge open to all the lost people of Beirut. It is developing thanks to the aid of associations such as L’Œuvre d’Orient and the bonds of friendship between Lebanon and the Côte d’Azur. Interview with Father Hani Tawk.

Father Hani and chef Éric Pansu at Marie’s kitchen

In the kitchen where mashed tomatoes from the vegetable garden are simmering in huge pots and where an old fan is turning without respite, Father Hani recounts in a serene voice his journey rich in shared experiences, his seminar, his spiritual crises followed by rebounds. salutary and its humanitarian missions in the footsteps of Mother Teresa. “I was 3 years old when my father was shot in front of me. At the age of 12, I entered the Maronite Patriarchal Seminary of Ghazir where I did my schooling. I wanted to engage in humanitarian work. We then opened with my mother a shelter for orphans in Bcharré, my life took on meaning, then I went as a missionary to India, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Spain, Greece and Cyprus. Lebanon, I resumed my studies of theology at the seminary then I met the one who was to become my wife. In 2003, I went to Lyon to do a master’s degree in international law-human rights and in mediation before to be ordained a priest in the parish of Bcharré in 2006. We decided with my wife to be a “missionary family”, to work for free in the service of others. In 2015, my mother was murdered by one of the orphans which she had taken care of. I was in the grip of a deep spiritual crisis from which I came out after eight months. I r I took up my mission by helping families in need, by providing them with my psychosocial support. When the October 2019 revolt broke out, I spent four months with the people on the streets. But the explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4 plunged me into despair. Seeing the NGOs flocking to help the inhabitants, we had the idea with my wife to open a street canteen to feed the humanitarian workers.”

Not far from the silos of the port, the Kitchen of Marie was at the beginning only a small canteen among the various humanitarian associations, in a vast hangar damaged then rehabilitated where the sun penetrates timidly. After the departure of the NGOs, Father Hani arranges the space to cook hot meals, helped by a dozen volunteers: “We have been serving around 850 hot meals a day for two years, to people who lost everything in the explosion, as well as to immigrants. They come at noon with a container that we fill with a ladle. I have We have also set up an activity space for children.With the help of psychotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists, we have created a program to support the families of victims in a friendly room. which welcomes people of all religions. We also distribute medicines, diapers and infant milk.”

Solid as the cedar of Lebanon, Father Hani gets busy, gets his hands dirty, provides those around him with advice and support. He knew how to surround himself with a faithful team: “Here is the central kitchen from which the cooked meals leave. There are 6 distribution points in the suburbs where volunteers provide service to registered families.”

Father Hani can count on the unfailing support of L’Œuvre d’Orient which, faithful to its vocation since 1865, gives priests and religious communities the means to accomplish their missions in the service of all.

Mainly, L’Œuvre d’Orient covers about 35% of donations. There is also ICO, an Austrian Catholic association that has been helping us for six months and offers us 10,000 euros every three months, knowing that we spend 500 dollars a day. Which is huge.”

The links with the Côte d’Azur were forged through the association Mon Liban d’Azur which, in June 2021, invited the team of the Paul Bocuse Foundation to Lebanon: “Chef Éric Pansu, Meilleur Ouvrier de France, came to Marie’s Kitchen to prepare a meal. That day, we served more than 800 dishes. The chef also concocted a gala dinner at Arthaus Beirut which was raised $10,000. This sum was given to me and I was able to buy a small van.” In October 2021, chef Nader Al Bacha came from Antibes to cook a polenta from Nice alongside Father Hani: “For us, it was a rapprochement between the Côte d’Azur and Lebanon. A moment of sharing and solidarity which strengthened our bonds of friendship.” A month later, the baker from Antibes, Jean-Paul Veziano, and a delegation from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat went to Marie’s Kitchen to show their support for the Lebanese: “Veziano made a tremendous amount of delicious bread.”

Concerned about the quality of the products, Father Hani cultivates abandoned land in Zouk Mikhael and Chekka where he grows wheat and gives a share of the harvest to the owners: “We are what I call root partners, he laughs. At Marie’s Kitchen, we cook with our crops and today we are self-sufficient in wheat. Our slogan is: from the the fork.”

Projects in the making? “Yes, lots of projects! A large kitchen that can serve up to 300 people on site and the opening of a reception center for the homeless (the first in Lebanon) including a pharmacy and offering medical monitoring and accommodation. An initiative that we are going to carry out with L’Œuvre d’Orient. I also bought several machines to set up a sewing business. And I recently opened a carpentry.” As for funding, Father Hani leaves it to Providence and repeats: “I’m confident. Every day, we have miracles!”

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