“The cooperative preserves our dignity”
Letter to Friends around the World # 105

Beitouna, a not-for-profit organisation founded by the residents of Nabaa, Beirut, celebrates the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, organising a street library, meetings with parents and a cooperative.

The cooperative was launched in 2006, at a time when large numbers of refugees were arriving in Lebanon from southern Libya. Several Lebanese families who had relocated to the area got together to consider how best they could help themselves, rather than simply relying on aid, or limiting their involvement to its distribution; to find ways to participate. Out of this came Beitouna, which buys products in bulk and resells them at 30% less than the market price. A cooperative of families, each of which pays a small subscription, it is managed by four local women, all volunteers, who make the purchases, and clean and display the produce. In discussion with the members, they decide what to buy, and when to open.

Prices shot up after the October Revolution in 2019 and we could no long afford to buy, so we had to close the cooperative down” explains Maya, one of the members. But with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the women saw the need to take action again.

They got involved with a Beirut recycling initiative set up by an artist called Hayat Nazer who is active on Instagram, whereby empty bottles can be exchanged for food vouchers. By collecting 200 bottles they qualified for four vouchers, enough to fund a small initial stock, which was boosted by financial contributions from a few Beitouna supporters.

To start with, the cooperative did not have very many members, as plenty of food parcels had arrived after the explosion which rocked Beirut in August 2020 and at the start of lockdown. But very soon families found it necessary to turn to the cooperative, which offers a more sustainable solution, even if they could not afford the subscription because of the crisis. In the supermarkets basic essentials have become more and more expensive.

When prices go up, the cooperative loses money. Without price control, wholesalers increase their prices whenever they want.

Since the cooperative reopened, 35 families have signed up. The plan is to increase that number, and to open three days a week, because there is a growing need in the face of increasing problems.

The cooperative preserves our dignity, because we are the ones choosing what to buy, and we are the ones paying for it. Being involved gives us a role and boosts our self-esteem.”

Maya A., Beitouna, Liban