Karm el-Mahr is a village over 1000 meters above sea level in North Lebanon. This s where Antoinette Hanna, has been living for years and fighting with all her strength to provide for her family.
Antoinette, who has four daughters, now aged between 31 and 18, is proud of what she has done and it is with great enthusiasm that she talks about her work and future projects.
She started working when her daughters were very young. “I was living with my in-laws and had to move out to a new house very quickly with my husband and young children. I had nothing. I settled in this house and decided to open a butcher’s shop,” she says. “People who bought meat from me would see me cooking my children’s meals. They would ask me to eat. I figured, that I might raise my income a bit if I opened a booth. It wasn’t even a real kiosk, it was a metal tent where I started selling food and sandwiches,” she recalls.
A little later, Antoinette Hanna decides to expand her projects, she opens instead of the kiosk a restaurant in her own house, the only restaurant in the village. She becomes known throughout the region, receives clients who even come from Beirut to eat at her place.
In addition to the butcher’s shop and the restaurant, she takes on catering projects for neighboring villages, begins to produce jams, and compote for sale. Her children help her with the task and work with her.
“I was 15, on weekends, I took orders from customers and served food. Today I help my mother with the management,” says Antonella, 26 years old, Antoinette’s daughter, now a graduate in marketing and who, like her sisters, has never stopped working to help her mom.
Three years ago, and for the first time in her life, Antoinette Hanna took part in a project set up by an NGO. This was the AFDAL I project which she benefited from, among other things, marketing courses for her small business, training on agro-food production, and getting equipment, including a stove and an industrial refrigerator for her restaurant.
This year, she is participating in AFDAL II and notably following cheese production courses.
“It’s all very helpful for me. I use everything I learn in my daily work. It allows me to do things differently and more efficiently. The economic situation is bad in Lebanon, customers have become scarce and orders for home catering too. Before the crisis, I would sell slaughtered at least one sheep a day at the butcher’s shop, nowadays only two, on Saturdays and Sundays. But I will never give up. I continue to work, to innovate, things will always end up changing for the better,” she said full of goodwill.
At the entrance of her restaurant, one would see a mound of pretty white stones that will be used to refurbish Antoinette’s restaurant façade.
A little further from her house, she has started construction work on land that belongs to the family. In the spring, four bungalows for rural tourism will be ready to welcome customers. “My eldest daughter is an architect. She is the one who put up the plans,” she says proudly.
Showing a small plot she planted next to the house where little roses and various kinds of aromatic plants grow, including lavender and sage, she says:
“Maybe, in the next CARE project, I could learn to extract the essence from flowers and plants, so I could make soap from them or just sell them,” she says.