BEIRUT: Walking through the colorful neighborhood in Ouzville, you will see fluorescent mandalas on walls that used to be nothing but a mute witness of the prevalent poverty in Ouzai.
Red stairs, green planting pots, cartoon characters, funny looking fish, and colorful concepts, are just a sample of what Ayad Nasser helped to create in a poor neighborhood overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Turning drab streets into Ouzville -- now a beautiful touristy place -- stemmed from a personal inspiration, Nasser told Annahar
While most media outlets have focused on Ouzville’s beauty, it is as important to reveal the story behind it. Born in Ouzai, Nasser did not have the perfect childhood anyone dreams of. “My mother left home when I was so young,” he says. His “mother’s selfishness”, he adds, was his main “push to create a world where selfishness does not exist,” and so Ouzville was the result.
The young man traveled to Monaco to find his mother remarried with a new child and with his family hopes crushed, “decided to try and spread kindness and love wherever he goes and whatever he does,” he says. Throughout his tough years, with divorced parents and new siblings they were taking care of, Nasser realized that “to succeed we have to work.”
After continuing his education in the Lycee in Monaco, Nasser worked as a waiter, bartender, and starred in various popular ads, such as Coca-Cola, Kent, and others. “I did not know what I wanted and what I was,” Nasser continues.
Returning to Lebanon in 1989, it was his first encounter with sectarianism. 23-year-old Ayad went to buy a house in Baabda back then, but he was told that the owners won't sell him the house since he’s a Muslim. “I wanted to change that view, so I explained that I’m just a human, and started making a positive difference in that neighborhood through planting and improvement of green spaces,” he says passionately.
“We should give to Lebanon so that it gives us back,” this is the sentence he keeps repeating. After staying in his country from 1993 until 1998, Nasser returned to Miami to work as a real-estate broker. However, his love for Lebanon drove him to come back and discover what he really loves; beautifying everything, and bringing it back to life.
In 2003, Nasser created Loft Investments in Lebanon, and worked with international architects on creating “something different”. He bought pieces of land in “dead cities” in Lebanon no one wanted to invest in and turned them into something full of life. There are 380 lofts currently.
The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and other international media, wrote about Nasser’s real estate success story. Returning to work in Bordeaux in 2007, Ayad created inspiring concepts as well. TF1 talked about “Loft a la Libanaise” in a 50-minute talk show featuring Nasser.
“I am really happy to create a beautiful view for myself and anyone looking at Ouzville from the plane,” he says. He talks passionately about transforming neglected buildings situated on public property into something inspiring. While the Lebanese state is the relevant party who is supposed to provide better living conditions for people in Ouzai, Nasser is drawing smiles on people’s faces.
The project, which cost $97,000 until now, is a personal initiative that the philanthropist aims to expand all over Lebanon. Ouzville is not only a newly-made colorful city for people in the neighborhood, but it is also a beautiful memory for Nasser, after it had previously evoked sad memories every time he saw it from the plane.
Nasser is meeting the Minister of Tourism this week in order to see how the ministry can support the project. 50 volunteers came over the weekend to paint Ouzai, which Nasser changed to Ouzville, since the initial name draws many wrong stereotypes about the area. Nasser has also invited artists from all over the world to beautify his hometown. Each having a different style, the artists are looking forward to the project, and Nasser is sponsoring all their stay in Beirut.
From Finok’s comic style, to Ashekman’s calligraphy, life is in the making on the walls of Ouzville. Will Williams is one of the graffiti artists Annahar met on site, with a main logo which is a leaf he paints on buildings “that were replaced by trees.”
Fresh blooming flowers in a number of houses in the neighborhood are cheering up local residents, such as Rwaida, who is enjoying the newly placed plant pots on her balcony. “This is an amazing change,” she tells Annahar, adding “my house is now painted from the inside as well. I did not have the money to do so on my own.” Another woman expressed gratitude about the new initiative which made her “love the neighborhood again.”
Red, yellow, pink home colors and beautiful murals reflect on the sea that Ouzville overlooks. Ouzville volunteers cleaned the shore from garbage, and the municipality of Ghobeiry transported the trash away in trucks.
Much further change may be ahead, but for now Ayad Nasser has helped to greatly transform his boyhood neighborhood for the better.
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