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Our Partners, the Faces of Vitas Lebanon

Abdul Majid Mallah – Sidon, Lebanon

Winding through the ancient web of streets and low-ceilinged shops in the historical market of Sidon, you will find the dusty but bustling workshop of Mr. Abdul Majid Mallah. Though his days often start as early as 6:00am and frequently spill over into the weekend, Abdul Majid is almost always smiling. The ornate woodworking he crafts in this old city outside Beirut has allowed him to turn a once tentative talent into a decidedly confident business and a stable enough income to support his family of 4 people. Abdul Majid’s current success was not at all certain when he took his first $500 loan from Vitas Lebanon (formerly Ameen s.a.l.) when they opened their doors in 1999.

However, over the course of thirteen years and almost as many loans, Abdul Majid’s unceasing energy and hard work has paid off. His reliability and excellent technical skills have earned him a solid reputation as one of the finest craftsmen in Sidon and its surrounding cities. He has been able to hire 2 part-time employees to help him during the summer tourism season, when his sales peak, so he is not only creating a more stable situation for his family, but also passing on new skills and opportunities to a new generation of entrepreneurs.

In honor of the success he had garnered through their partnership, in 2007, Vitas Lebanon nominated Abdul for a countrywide YMCA Citigroup Micro-entrepreneurship award. The award recognizes “local micro-entrepreneurs who take the initiative to combat unemployment and transport themselves and their families out of poverty through micro-enterprise.” He won first prize in the Manufacturing category, for his beautifully hand crafted wooden stools, receiving a cash prize that he used to purchase additional raw materials and continue building his operations. In 2012, Abdul Majid is still proud of the life he has built through this partnership: “I joined Ameen at its inception,” he noted, “and without their continuous support, I wouldn’t have the life I have today”.

Bassam Matta – Byblos, Lebanon

Every last one of the 16,000+ borrowers in the Vitas network is entrepreneurial at heart, but Bassam Matta takes the term “entrepreneur” to an entirely new level. Though young, Bassam has been a farmer for years in the mountainous Laqlouq region of Lebanon, about 30 kilometers from the historical city of Byblos. In an effort to increase the income from his farm, to help support his family of 4, in 1994, Bassam began using his herd of over 20 cows to produce milk and dairy products to sell in the local market. Knowing that he was only tapping the surface of his farm’s potential, he contacted a client advisor from Vitas Lebanon (then Ameen s.a.l.) to discuss his options. With his advisor’s support, he applied for a loan that allowed him to make crucial repairs to his barn and to develop another set of products that would diversify his business risk and create opportunities for growth: jams, spices, honey and natural juices. The decision was game-changing. Seeing his success at building a niche market for gourmet, local foods, Bassam imagined the broader potential. It is said that an epic journey starts with a single step, but Bassam took an entrepreneurial leap and applied for a loan to fund “La Valleé Blanche.” A revolutionary concept, “the White Valley” will be the first boutique hotel in his strikingly beautiful mountain village when it is completed. But this venture will offer tourists more than just a charming place to stay; Bassam will also be conducting free classes for guests on how to produce seven different types of excellent French cheese and offering guided tours of the farm. Never one to rest on his laurels, Bassam also plans to open a restaurant at the hotel serving traditional Lebanese food to round out his guests’ perfect stay. Vitas looks forward to being part of Bassam’s next big scheme to connect his little mountain village to economic prosperity and endless possibilities.