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Ani Kaloust

by Don Duncan with photographs by Dalia Khamissy

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ONE magazine’s Don Duncan sat down not long ago to talk with Ani Kaloust, a 65-year-old Lebanese Armenian Catholic who lives in the eastern Beirut neighborhood of Geitawi.

ONE: I have heard you work long days. Could you tell me how?

Ani Kaloust: Well, I work mainly with Caritas [the charity of the Lebanese Catholic churches and a partner of CNEWA] and with the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate in Bourj Hammoud, an Armenian neighborhood in eastern Beirut. I have been with Caritas for more than 25 years, working in Geitawi, receiving and helping families in need. We give them money and food aid. Besides that, we have families struggling with illness — even cancer. We help them however we can.

My other job is with the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate, as a member of their charity arm. I’ve been with them for 40 years. In order to help the people of the area, you need to have someone who knows the families, right? Well, I know all the families in this community: rich, middle class and the poor. In the patriarchate, when people come knocking on the door asking for help, they say: “Go see Madam Ani.” I do a little interview to see what they need, and the patriarchate helps them if able.

ONE: I see in the room next to ours, there is a group of women working around a table preparing food. Is that one of your projects?

AK: Yes, this has been going on for 20 years. We sell baked goods to supermarkets. Eleven women work in the collective — widows and women in need. We make a range of savory biscuits, thyme biscuits with nuts, sweet biscuits, and more. For the women working here, we pay their travel, their salary and their social security. We distribute to most of the Lebanese supermarkets, as well as to Saudi Arabia, Dubai and France.

For Caritas, it’s a self-financing activity. With the current funding model, where there is less and less money coming from outside, we are obliged to do self-sustaining activities, so selling these biscuits helps us fund our other activities.

ONE: What other activities do you do with Caritas?

AK: For the past 19 years, we’ve been visiting prisoners. We help people who don’t have family visiting them. We talk with them.

If they need clothes, medication, food or drink, we provide that for them.

Some families who won’t come to visit have given up; their child has messed up to a point where the family rejects him. Others may not be able to afford to visit. The prison is at Roumieh, about 12 miles from Beirut, so if a family wants to visit their child, they need at least $50 to go, come back and bring provisions to their child.

ONE: I’ve heard the conditions are poor.

AK: Yes, they are awful.

ONE: Can you describe them?

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