Friday, August 21, 1998
LebEnv # 55
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
The environmental movement continues to gain steam, thanks to the efforts of literally dozens of organizations both local and national. One of the newer organizations is T.E.R.R.E., or Tentons Ensemble de Realizer un Reve a nos Enfants (Let us try together to realize a dream for our children). This campaign was started by 28-year-old Paul Abi-Rached and aims to educate the country's school children. He visits schools to talk about the environmental problems of Lebanon: waste, recycling, bird hunting, the sea, quarries, forests. He believes that issuing laws will not help if the people are not educated first. He is also a talented composer, singer and guitar player. Thus, much of his 'talk' actually consists of songs about the environment sung in Arabic, English and French. The songs are available on audio cassette.
With the help of UNDP (United Nations Development Project) and its LIFE (Local Initiative Facility for Urban Environment), he has also launched a project to encourage recycling in villages where people are talked to and given special cardboard boxes for the recyclables. His van also includes a library-on-wheels stocked with environmental literature videos, and scientific measuring instruments.
Thanks to the power of the Internet, I was introduced to Paul by a professor at Lebanese American University, Dr. Mark Perry, who had e-mailed me after reading LebEnv. I visited him at his house in Ba'abda, where I had the honor of being the first to hear a new song he had just finished composing. We then walked a short distance to Ba'abda forest.
Ba'abda forest is an area on the southern fringes of the town, not far from Wadi Shahrour. So close to Beirut, it remains free of development for the most ironic of reasons. The Arab Boulevard was slated to pass through it. Despite the threat, Paul, with the cooperation of the owners of the forest, the Antoniyyeh convent, made it into a preserve with the idea of raising peoples' awareness of their environment. Now that the Arab Boulevard has been canceled, the future of the forest looks bright. Still, there are reminders of the forces ravaging Lebanon's landscape. A new road slashes through the forested hillside on the other side of the valley just outside the preserve, and ugly buildings peek over ridges.
The 100,000-square-meter forest lies in an east-west valley. During some phases of the war, it was on the front lines. Much of the forest was burned as a result, and some of the old fortifications can still be seen just outside it. Now, the land is healing and a new generation of trees of all kinds is growing among the old survivors. We walked on a trail that had been newly built. We bumped into Zahi Bustani, a young part-time ranger looking after the forest. He accompanied us, pointing out various plants, some with medicinal value. Despite being so close to Beirut, there are jackals, as evidenced by holes among the rocks with bones at their entrances. The cores of pine cones littered the ground; it was found that a certain kind of mouse stripped them of the scales to get at the seeds. In an open area were the remains of a very old house; a drainage system leading into a covered reservoir was found.
A flat area at the bottom of the valley, defined by old terraces, is being converted into a small playing field. The idea is to eventually have camps for local children and a place for them to play in a natural setting. One area is devoted to separating recyclable plastics and paper. At the present, the trail, which forms a loop on the side of the mountain and the bottom of the drainage, is used by school children on educational nature hikes.
We met two friends of Paul. Back at the house, Paul, Zahi and the two other friends feverishly discussed upcoming plans for the forest. I left, feeling a little more optimistic about the future of Lebanon's natural heritage. I felt that a 'little' person like Paul was worth a thousand 'big' Joseph Khourys busy burying the sea (with the product of rock quarries) to create more real estate for profit.
T.E.R.R.E. can be reached at The Environmental Visitors Center Social Saint Vincent, Ashrafieh-Sassine in Beirut. Tel/Fax: 01-324495 (from within Lebanon).
Fareed's Home Page (with articles and photos on the environment in Lebanon) at http://members.aol.com/fdadlion/