TYRE: Every Tuesday morning, German women impatiently line up in front of boxes filled with fresh German bread, pastries and buns to buy their supplies for the week. Tuesday morning is also the time for their weekly meeting, when these women gather for a chat, a cup of coffee and a piece of apple pie, an almond croissant or a cinnamon roll. Perfect timing, so to speak, for the bakery at the Mosan Center in Tyre. This is where the German goodies are produced, in a bakery integrated into a daycare center for disabled children.
The Mosan Center in Bourj al-Shamali, located next to Tyre, is one of a kind in South Lebanon. Some 100 children are brought here daily, from toddlers to those in their 20s. They can attend normal school lessons, visit specialized therapists and work in sewing, woodcrafts, gardening or, since last October, the German bakery.
The bakery was established with the help of the German foundation Bread Against Misery, run by one of Germany's biggest bakery chains, Kamps. The foundation sponsors projects for children and teenagers in need to give them a practical education, job opportunities and an income.
"One day, friends from Germany visited us and our daycare center," recalled Ria Sheraffedine, the Mosan director's wife. "They knew about the German foundation and thought Mosan was a perfect place for a project."
The requirements for project support from Germany included a detailed action plan and profit and sustainability assessments. Fortunately, Ali Sheraffedine is a German-educated architect, so he was aware of the strict building and safety standards the German foundation wanted put in place.
Used bakery equipment was shipped to Lebanon after the Bread against Misery president visited the daycare center and gave the project the go ahead.
"To get it out of customs was the second big problem," recalled Ali Sheraffedine. "We had to pay LL4 million in taxes."
A German baker also went to Tyre to teach a Lebanese baker the German way of making bread. In the initial weeks, the bakers were confronted with power cuts. The German contacted the foundation, asking for a generator.
"Within a few weeks, we had a generator worth $5,000," said Sheraffedine.
After eight months of successful operation, a third German baker is here for a three-month stay. Erich Simon, 66, is looking for a new challenge after he retired a year ago.
"After the death of my wife, I wondered what to do with my life. So I decided to do some voluntary work in this project," he said.
Simon cares for his mentally disabled sister, so he was a good candidate to teach bread making to disabled children. Each morning, they start work at 5 or 6am.
"I just show them what to do," he said, "and they imitate it. They just need a little bit more time and lots of encouragement."
Usually, everything works out fine, but sometimes, Simon has to play the role of "fire-fighter" to save the pastries.
"But it is rare when something goes wrong, and if it does, they understand they made a mistake.
"The degree of disabilities of our trainees are of different levels," said Simon, "and the tasks every individual can manage to do are also different."
The Lebanese baker Hassan Skeiki didn't need to learn much more when Simon arrived. He had been taught by the previous German bakers how bread is made without baking powder but with sauerteig, a sour dough which gives the heavy breads their particular taste.
He knows how to deal with the right amounts of flour and other ingredients and also manages the German machines.
Skeiki was also experienced in dealing with disabled children prior to working at Mosan. He will continue to direct the bakery after his German counterpart has left.
It's a good team. Proof enough are the breads, buns and pastries that sell quickly at the German church, the German, Austrian and Swiss embassies and in the little shop in the Mosan Center that supplies those living in the Tyre area.
"We hope that before Christmas we will get another baker from Germany to help us with the production of special German Christmas cookies," said Sheraffedine.
He is optimistic, since they usually sell all their products, but the breads are not cheap - each 500-gram loaf costs about LL4,500. It is a price many foreign residents are prepared to pay, knowing the proceeds benefit a charity operation.
Interaction between disabled children and non-disabled clients is another important aspect of the center. Clients can glimpse through the bakery's window to watch how the bread is made. School children also come to see the bakery and, sometimes, make pizza together with the disabled kids.
"For our disabled children it is very important to get in touch with other children, so they can feel normal," said Sheraffedine. "The times of isolated centers for people with disabilities are definitely over."