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Archdeacon Imad and The Chocolate Factory

In the foothills of Lebanon’s mountains around forty minutes’ drive from Beirut is a place that you might think boys and girls would dream of: a children’s centre with its own chocolate factory.

making chocolate at the factory
Packing the finished chocolates ready for sale

But it’s not as straightforward as that. The St Luke’s Centre for children with special needs is the flagship project of the Anglican Church in Lebanon, funded almost entirely by the Diocese of Jerusalem, under the direction of its local leader Archdeacon Imad. The remainder of its income comes from (you’ve guessed it) making and selling chocolate and cakes.

The need for the Centre was identified as long ago as 1964 but the present purpose-built home and school dates from 2002 and Imad has been associated with it throughout that period. He is passionate about what he describes as

a most important service of devotion to God

and quotes Matthew chapter 25 where Jesus says that care for the least is what is important for disciples.

Throughout the period of St Luke’s existence, Lebanon as a nation and society has found the going difficult as it has suffered the results of war, inflation, explosion and of course Covid. But the Church has remained committed to this project through thick and thin and that commitment has recently been restated by Archbishop Hosam. The Centre is partly residential and partly caters for day pupils. The aim is to help them to grow into independent adults, able to look after themselves and cope with everyday tasks, as well as being prepared for various kinds of employment. There is teaching of maths, languages and creative arts, and special sessions for parents. There are currently 55 pupils, which is close to its capacity.

The Anglican ethos is maintained through creating space for prayer (both Muslim and  Christian)and celebrating major festivals but especially through its example of best practice and caring attention. Staff to pupil ratios need to be high in order to deliver that, and the Centre has remained committed to its staff through difficult times, some of whom are former pupils. A number of the staff are part time experts in such fields as speech therapy, psychology and child psychiatry. There is a special unit, run by specialists in Autism. The chief skill needed is patience. Imad speaks of how it can take a full year to teach someone to tie their shoes, only for them to forget again during the summer break.

Pupils enjoying singing in the Chapel
Students enjoy singing in the Chapel

Chocolate making has been a feature from the outset. A laborious and low-tech method has given way, as profits became available, to update machinery that can produce chocolate of very high quality with a properly shiny finish. (I can personally vouch for the quality of their wafer-thin mints!). The pupils do not touch the chocolate at any point, but they do help with some of the peripheral work. The chocolate making is overseen by Imad’s wife Hind assisted by other staff. The results are sold at church events including the Diocesan Majma. The major Festivals, along with other key dates like Mothering Sunday, see the most sales. At Western Easter this year they managed to shift 250 kilos! Baking has followed chocolate as a fund raiser and special ‘maamoul’ cakes were being made and prepared for sale as I visited, for Eastern Easter.

Finishing the maamoul shells ready for Easter
Finishing the maamoul shells ready for Easter

The sale of chocolate alone would not come close to the costs of running this facility. The diocese has made a huge contribution at a time when other providers have withdrawn their services. The Government has contracts with the Centre but they are paid at outdated rates. What was worth $89 just a few years ago is now worth just over $1, thanks to inflation; whilst goods that cost $5 now cost $20.  It’s a defiant faithful service that the Church is offering. Imad is hopeful. He says,

if we pray and continue to serve, the funds will come from somewhere.

Archdeacon Imad
Archdeacon Imad