Mellow, Guilda Khoury's handmade organic home accessories brand and store by the same name, was completely destroyed by the Beirut blast.

Alfanar was introduced to Mellow through its collaboration with StandForWomen and their Marion Fund, in support of women-led businesses affected by the blast. The repairs at Mellow, part of which were undertaken by Alfanar with BEDCO social enterprise by March NGO, were recently completed.

In face of all the devastation, remaining hopeful has been a challenge for Guilda. However, she still considers herself as a Lebanese "with big ambitions, who believes in humanity and the world and someone who wants to make an impact around her." This is what she told Alfanar about what these past months have been like for her.

 

  1. What was it like when you first saw the shop after the blast?

It was devastating. One of the most difficult moments I've been through. I was a couple of metres away from Mellow when the explosion happened but didn't quite realise the magnitude of what had happened, being initially occupied with my injuries and that of my assistant. When I went to the shop the next day, that is when I saw how devastating it was. 

I cried for three days. I recall how I first arrived at the shop, how I walked and then ran towards it. The sight of my shop, and that of the whole neighbourhood, was unbelievable, indescribable and something that I actually do not want to remember. It was horrible.

 

Guilda Khoury in her rebuilt shop with Michelle Mouracade, Alfanar Country Director and Caroline Fattal, Founder of Stand For Women. Photo courtesy of Stand For Women.

  1. What did the reconstruction process and Alfanar's support mean to you?

I didn't want to repair the shop, especially since something inside me had literally broken after the explosion. What happened was absolutely unacceptable and I considered there was no point in reopening after experiencing such a blow.

The repairs started by mistake. A call to a glass supplier for a quotation to give to the insurance company was misunderstood as an order for the shattered glass, and the next thing I knew, I had new windows. My landlord accepted to deduct the cost of the glass from the rent, so things started to fall in place on their own in a strange way. NGOs starting getting in touch and I just didn't want to talk to anyone.

When Alfanar called, they strongly encouraged me to open the shop so they could start their part in the repairs. Things happened so smoothly, so many people reached out to help with everything they had to offer. This is when I realised that in spite of the pain and anger, Mellow was meant to be repaired and get back on its feet. Alfanar's push to do so played an important role in this context. As for the work itself, the BEDCO team was very professional in every way. Emotionally, I couldn't be with them on the ground to see the destruction that they were repairing so they were on their own. They did an excellent job and made me feel as if I was present throughout the entire process.

When the repairs were done, I kept the store closed for 2 weeks. I was unsure of whether to reopen and had still not set foot in Mar Mikhael since the explosion. It wasn't easy to see what had become of my home of 8 years. It's impossible not to feel emotional when you see it in such a state.

All the support I received, including that of Alfanar's, was crucial because it showed me that someone cared if I reopened or not. But with Alfanar it was also a human connection, and our shared vision, purpose and mission, Mellow as a business with a social impact itself, in providing opportunities to different kinds of people. Having said this, stopping my brand and workshop was never an option as I relocated and re-started work immediately and my team of artisans weren't affected. The main issue for me was about Beirut and the country itself and what had happened to us.

 

  1. What has been the most difficult part of these past months?

Seeing what had become of Mar Mikhael, a place that gave us so much joy, broken and in ruins, is something that is still very difficult to process. Even as the neighbourhood is being rebuilt, I still can't bear the sadness that weighs in every corner. 

I'm already dreading going back to Beirut [from Dubai participating in an exhibition] because as much as I love Mar Mikhael, I still can't bear its sadness and what has become of all of Beirut too. This is something that we all share. As I talk to fellow Lebanese designers here in Dubai, the sadness of what has happened to Beirut weighs on everything we say and do. No matter how far we go, the pain remains with us all. Nobody can accept what happened, and we must refuse to let it go as if nothing happened. 

 

Photo courtesy of Guilda Khoury.

  1. What's next for Mellow?

Unfortunately, if the situation in Lebanon remains as it is, we're working on restructuring our base in Lebanon and expanding abroad. Of course, expanding is a good thing, but I didn't want this to take place as a result of the explosion, and as a way to escape from the pain of being in Beirut.

It's hard to be positive. Every day I tell myself to remain hopeful but it's hard. As Lebanese, we need to get back what was taken away from us on August 4th. And by this I don't mean compensation or physical reconstruction, it is much bigger and deeper than that. 

As an entrepreneur, I don't have a lot of hope. I have a duty and responsibility not to abandon Beirut nor the neighbourhood that played an important role in my achievements, but I'm not sure for how long that can last.

 

  1. Your last thoughts

I hope the pain inside every Lebanese will heal. What happened brought the best in us, whether in terms of solidarity and support, from NGOs, Lebanese residents and in the Diaspora for those directly affected and to Lebanese generally. This in itself brings back hope in humanity, transforming the ugliness in some sort of beauty.

I still believe in humanity and still believe in Beirut. I am waiting for the day that Beirut will see the light again, when it will smile with joy in the streets.

Learn more about how Alfanar's Emergency Lebanon Appeal is helping social enterprises to rebuild in the wake of the August 4 Beirut explosion.