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The Al-Kafaàt Foundation

by Editors

Most Reverend Metropolitan PHILIP, Most Reverend Metropolitan PAUL, Most Reverend Metropolitan GEORGE, Venerable Hierarchs, Members of the Board of Trustees, Dear Assembly, The Al-Kafaàt Foundation delivers today two channels of services:

• One devoted to providing medical and rehabilitation services to children and adults with disabilities;
• Another devoted to providing vocational training, educational and employment services to youths and adults with social and financial challenges.

These services are comprehensive and interrelated: programs in Special Education, for example, delivered to higher education feedback into the rehabilitation centers and the creation of sheltered and sustained employment to adults with disabilities; or educational programs in Catering which allow for the provision of daily hot meals to all 950 residents of the Foundation.

The services are provided today in seven different centers in Lebanon: the specialized and medical services are provided in five centers located in the Greater Beirut area, namely in the southern part of Beirut and in the Hadath region; the educational, vocational and employment services are provided in the remaining two, located in the Metn area — Mansourieh and Ain-Saadeh.

Al-Kafaàt is a Lebanese non-profit, governed by a Board of Trustees, employing today 780 persons, and providing services to over 4,000 daily beneficiaries. It has twice received high official distinctions for the work it has accomplished, the Lebanese Order of Cedars, and will receive in two weeks the highest Order of Cedars on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, which coincides with the date of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary

In 1957, Nadim Shwayri was a wealthy 22- year-old man who had just graduated with an MA, working as a partner and consultant in a prominent financial institution. He had, however, an inner yearning to help the disadvantaged. He did not know where to start, but decided that year to set up a school that provides education and vocational catering training to socially disadvantaged and threatened young girls and women.

But when a girl with quadriplegia asked one morning to join the school in 1957, he came face to face with a challenge he could not turn away from.

The girl who came to him, who carried “disability” in her limbs, was “ability” to him in her eyes, and in her mind. And above everything else, the breath of God was beating in her heart. How could this girl be called “disabled” when God, who was ALL ABILITY, was still working in her? This girl was simply the messenger he had been waiting for; she led him to the soul of his mission.

A devout Christian Orthodox, he understood early in his childhood and during his youth, Christianity as a commitment to serving others. For him, this is what it meant.

All ends, all perishes. Only what remains on this earth, is what is useful to Man.” (Holy Quran) Commitment to service. This is what is useful to Man.

In the Gospel of St. Matthew (7:21): “Not every one that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Equally, in the Holy Quran: “It is not by spending a whole month in my Mosque that you will get closer to me, but it is by walking in the direction of a needy person that you will.”

Such was his belief. Researching for God cannot be done by simply locking yourself in an ivory tower and looking up. It is only when you look at the weakest soul, take it by the hand, and together climb up to higher grounds that you are able to reach for Him.

Such was, and such is, the essence of his Christian Faith. Such is the essence of Al-Kafaàt.

After meeting this young girl, he went around to see what was conducted back then in Lebanon in terms of rehabilitation to adults with disabilities.

He was repulsed by what he saw, and repulsed by the way handicapped people were looked upon. Even more repulsed by the way people equated back then — and to a certain extent, still until today — help with pity without value to human dignity. He refused the concept of pity, rejected it, and decided to take his fight against society.

A visionary, he therefore decided to set up an enterprise employing the “rejects” of society, producing work to be sold. The returns would be invested in producing support equipment to people with disabilities. He wanted to prove through this project that people with disabilities could not only lead a life with honor, if given the proper opportunities, but they could be productive, and even better:

He so made an appeal to all the people with disabili- ties he visited, talking about his project, his dream, asking them to join him. He spoke to over 100 persons. But only three decided to join him. Thus, on August 15, 1957, the four of them started the leather enterprise in a humble rented apartment in one of the slums of Ashrafieh. By 1969, that small enterprise had become an industry employing over 170 people. It looked pretty normal to the naked eye, producing and exporting goods to American and European destinations.

But if you looked closer, you would note that all 170 were adults with either physical or mental disabilities. ALL 170 WERE TAX-PAYERS!

It is during that very same year that the Founder and his wife, herself from a wealthy family as well, both decided to devote their accumulated family inheritances to serving the cause of Al-Kafaàt. They then set up an Endowment Fund that makes up, today, for 42% of the yearly budget of Al-Kafaàt, and instituted the Foundation, making it independent from the person of Nadim Shwayri. The Foundation’s first Board of Trustees was formed.

In 1972, on the official inauguration of Al- Kafaàt’s first center, the Lily Shwayri Center (named after the wife of the Founder), the Foundation was awarded its first Presidential Order of Cedars, proving that in every “disability” existed an “ability.”

When late Prime Minister Salam placed the Medal on the chest of the very first three workers who joined Nadim in his Mission in 1957, proof was then made that there were no people with disabilities — only disabling situations.

This is how Al-Kafaàt, which means “abilities” in Arabic, came into existence. This developed into the Mission Statement of Al-Kafaàt — “Our hands are to produce, and not to beg. Dignity through production and not through charity.”

Today Al-Kafaàt faces many challenges, one of which is adulthood with disability.

Elie is 41-years-old. He has already spent 30 happy years at Al-Kafaàt. But Elie’s father is dying, and Elie still has 30 years of life ahead of him. Our challenge today, our mission, is to make these 30 years, happy years. Elie is, yet again, another messenger for us. Our mission is not only to enable him to live these years with dignity, but also to allow him to leave this earth with dignity.

Elie has mental challenges. But he is productive through our different sustained and sheltered employment schemes.

Such is not the situation with Rita. Rita is only 17, but is quadriplegic with severe mental retardation. She has no ability to communicate but with her eyes. She cannot move her hands and legs but has severe spasticity. She cannot maintain herself if it is not for her adapted seat and has no sphincter control. She also has scoliosis. She has mastication problems so her food needs to be nutritionally prepared and mashed. A constant assistance is required. Rita is one of the currently 165 severely multiply-disabled youths and adults that we care for at Al-Kafaàt. For how long can Rita live? No one knows. As long as she is properly rehabilitated and taken care of, she has equal chances to life as anyone else in this room. Her parents — particularly her mother — are apprehensive of the future. How will they leave Rita behind?

For Elie, Rita, and their friends, Al-Kafaàt is working towards building Specialized Residences for aging adults with disabilities like Elie, and for heavily dependent adults with disabilities like Rita, allowing them to live their adulthood and leave this earth with dignity.

The future of these severely disabled youths and adults depends on us. They are our messengers. They are our angels. They are the reminders of our Christian Faith, our commitment to service. We have a commitment to serving them, because yes, they are blessed. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

“It is one of God’s blessings, to be needed and to provide for others,” and “The Most Merciful shows mercy to those who have mercy on others. Show mercy to those on earth, and the One above the heaven will show mercy to you” (Holy Quran). For indeed, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

It is with Omar; it is with Elie; and it is with Ali that our commitment to Al-Kafaàt to serving Man, our commitment to serving our Christian Faith, begins.

God has led the steps of Nadim Shwayri to initiate this beautiful project called Al-Kafaàt. And God has led mine to the American Antiochian Archdiocese. I have met my messenger in Englewood. And after a long hard struggle to fulfill his Christian Mission on this earth, Nadim Shwayri has finally come face to face with his Christian shepherd, leader, and mentor, in the person of His Eminence Metropolitan SALIBA.

More than anything else, it gives me tremendous pride to be standing here today in front of this esteemed crowd, carrying the legacy of Nadim Shwayri, my father, the legacy of Al-Kafaàt, fulfilling Nadim Shwayri’s most ardent desire, the one he fought for in the past 50 years — and that is to find peace and bliss in the warm haven of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Thank you, Your Eminence.

Courtesy of the

October 2007 issue of The Word magazine.

Return to The Word article listing.