Salvaging heritage to furnish homes

His voice is frail and his movements uncertain. Having motor disabilities since childhood, Mr Michel Halajian struggles to move and speak. But these deficiencies do not prevent the 41-year-old Lebanese from producing unique works with his hands.

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"You see these pieces of scrap iron? These are balcony grilles from a Beirut home from the 1920s. My hands will make them into lamps that will be distributed around the world," he says proudly.

Mr Halajian works daily at the Arc en Ciel workshop, a local NGO that employs the disabled, carrying out his mission for Beyt by 2b Design, a Lebanese company that turns the remains of architectural elements from destroyed traditional homes into decorative objects.

The project was founded by Ms Benedicte de Blavous and her husband, Mr Raja Mubarak, a French-Lebanese couple in their 50s. Inspired by the charm of Lebanese houses, Ms de Blavous had the idea for the social venture when the couple arrived in Lebanon in 1994.

Faced with the rapid urbanisation of Beirut, she devoted herself to the preservation of Lebanese architectural heritage, salvaging whatever she can from old abandoned buildings to make decorative objects for the home.

To pursue their social beliefs, the couple decided to work with the marginalised. However, they decided to start a business rather than an NGO.

"Economic viability is a prerequisite for sustainable social impact," explains Mr Mubarak. "NGOs do not have the economic sustainability that businesses do."

To boost the company's social influence, they aim to replicate the concept internationally.

"Our model is transferable wherever there are endangered heritage and marginalised peoples," says Ms de Blavous.

Soraya Hamdan

L'Orient-Le Jour (Lebanon)