“Jezzine Bikes": When a stay-at-home mother becomes an entrepreneur…

01-08-2018
Antoine AJOURY

Thanks to 11,000 euros worth of funding from the EU, Cherine Bou Rached has been able to successfully start her own business renting out bikes in Jezzine.

 

It's 2pm. Cherine Bou Rached has just arrived at her workplace. She starts by checking if there are any bookings for this afternoon. She is the happy owner of a small business in Jezzine (40 km south of Beirut) where she rents out bikes.

She then checks the bikes over one by one. With her assistant, Khwan, she checks the tyres and brakes. Everything must be perfect before the customers arrive. As of Friday and for the weekend, people start to arrive in the city and there will be a great demand to rent bikes.

It is thanks to funding from the European Union (EU) and to Oxfam that Cherine, who is not yet 30 years old, was able to set up her own business.

After studying to become a librarian at the Lebanese University in Fanar (northern suburbs of Beirut), she got married and had two children. However, having obtained her degree, she wasn't able to find a job in Jezzine.

She therefore decided to start up her small business. “I’ve liked bikes since I was little”, says Cherine, while inflating a tyre.  She therefore proposed her “Jezzine Bikes” project to Oxfam.

Marco Ricci, Program Coordinator within Oxfam, explains that the young woman attended an ideas competition organised by the association. After a feasibility and profit study, her project was accepted. Oxfam provided her with condensed management and marketing training to help run her small business. With the help of 11,000 euros provided by the EU, she first bought two small, old wooden kiosks that she refurbished. She then bought the bikes in several stages and has currently purchased 25. Brochures and city maps were also printed.

The city has also been very cooperative. “The Chairman of the City Council, Khalil Harfouche offered me the ground on which I have put up my kiosks. The city has also contributed to the cost of the company logo, which was created by a designer in Jezzine”, says the young entrepreneur.

“It must be said that our city was lacking in this type of project. It’s a pioneering idea”, she says, proudly. Cycling is first and foremost, a healthy physical activity. “You can burn lots of calories”, she says, laughing. However, buying a good quality bike costs a small fortune, at least 600,000 Lebanese pounds! Many people cannot afford such an investment.  Therefore, renting a bike for 8,000 Lebanese pounds per hour is much more affordable for those who live in Jezzine and want to take up this sport.

As for Lebanese tourists or foreigners visiting the city for the day, a weekend or even a week, cycling is a convenient and ecological way of getting around the city and its surroundings.

 

 

Tourism, ecology and economy

Jezzine is a hot spot for holidays in Lebanon. Perched at an altitude of 950 metres, the city is known for its mild climate in the summer. While temperatures exceed 30 degrees Celsius in Beirut, in Jezzine a cool and pleasant wind caresses inhabitants and visitors.

Surrounded by pine forests, green mountains, steep cliffs and impressive waterfalls, the city is in harmony with surrounding nature.

Jezzine is also known for its old souk, crafts, churches, old centenarian buildings and restaurants.

“We have also made a small tourist map of the city with interesting sites to see as you go around”, says Cherine.  This initiative has several benefits for the city. Firstly for tourism, as it enables people to visit Jezzine and its surroundings in a convenient, easy and pleasant way. Then, there is a significant ecological aspect, as a bike does not pollute, and finally a relevant economic side. Cherine employs several people thanks to her small project. Firstly, there is the mechanic who maintains the bikes and repairs them, then a young man from the village to sell them as well as two people who work as guides when their service is requested by tourists.  This gives the entrepreneur time to take care of her two children, whilst managing her business.

It must also be said that Cherine’s character definitely stands for something in her success. She is a small woman who is full of energy. She always has a smile on her face and tackles difficulties with determination. “I struggled for my project to succeed and obtain the necessary agreements. I learnt the basics of the profession, for example, how to maintain a bike, and I carried out lots of research. Not to mention that maintaining bikes is expensive, as they always need spare parts. And when the project was successful, I had to face the jealousy of a few villagers who tried to throw a spanner in the works”, she recalls. But at the end of the day, with help from the EU, Oxfam and the city, “Jezzine Bikes” has paved its way onto the city’s tourist map.

According to Marco Ricci, “The aim of the Oxfam project is to provide employment opportunities to enable people to stay in the area. The beneficiary is therefore more active and efficient in their community, in both the short and medium term. This has a positive effect both on the individual and their area. In Cherine’s case, she has gone from being an unemployed housewife to being an entrepreneur with a stable income. As for the city of Jezzine, this initiative has paid off for regional tourism.”

“In the future, I plan to increase the number of bikes to meet the needs of large groups visiting the city”, adds Cherine, full of hope for the future.

 

 

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