When Maha catches a glimpse of her reflection nowadays she often does a double take. “Honestly, I don’t recognize myself, I’m a different woman,” she said.
As a newcomer to the business world, Maha admits she had a lot to learn before opening a traditional style bakery in the home she shares with her elderly parents. “I knew how to make manousheh (the flatbread staple that many Lebanese start their day with) from my mother, but I didn’t know more than this.”
Supported under NEF’s livelihoods project, Maha participated in a vocational course to increase her baking knowledge, undertook business training and developed a business plan. Her aptitude and dedication qualified her for a cash grant, with which she purchased her first bread stove, gas bottles and ingredients.
“They call me ‘Maha the Manousheh’,” the proud 50-year-old says, who has clearly won the hearts (and stomachs) of her neighborhood clients. “I bake four times a week, on these mornings around twenty people pass by to collect the orders they phone in. I even have a customer who comes every time before he travels abroad. He takes my baking to his relatives.”
Less than a year after launching her business, Maha’s progress and success are clear. She recently qualified for an expansion grant from NEF, and manages to support her family with a stable income.
For Maha however, the most significant reward has been winning the respect of her family. “My brother, who lives in Australia and sends us money each month, wasn’t happy when he knew I was working. But when he visited and saw how I was working, he saw my strength. Now we are equal,” she said.
“When I stop, I think, how did I do all of this? But I am confident I can do more.”