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French Version

Working to make a 'green' dream a reality in Lebanon (Daily Star)

Terre-liban mounts eco-conscious programs
The active yet little-known group labored for years without obtaining official recognition, which came in 2002

The most active groups in terms of environment protection are not always the best known.

Terre-Liban, "Tentons de Realiser un Reve pour nos Enfants," or "Let's try to make a dream come true for our children," is one such group.

"Terre-Liban thinks globally and acts locally. Because we love Earth, we want to protect it in Lebanon," said Paul Abi Rashed, a 36-year-old environmental educator and co-founder of Terre-Liban.

Abi Rashed and other founding members met during an environmental workshop in Lebanon in 1994. "Later we had regular meetings, and in December 1994 we launched our first operation, the 'smart paperivore' campaign, a cardboard can that takes only papers," said Abi Rashed.

Trying to raise awareness regarding selective sorting of wastes, this operation aimed at teaching children the importance of recycling and the damage caused to forests and trees through the paper production process.

"Maria Raad (another co-founder) took care of the design. We came up with a cardboard paper can with funny drawings along with educative messages about the damage to forests," Abi Rashed added.

In no time at all, the "smart paperivore" was distributed in classrooms from North to South Lebanon.

Sponsored by the paper manufacturers' syndicate, the campaign is still going on. Every year, several more municipalities, local associations and schools adopt the program.

From the protection of the Baabda Forest to saving the shore, second-hand smoking or the protection of birds, Terre-Liban has championed numerous causes over the years, and all without being an officially registered organization.

In 1997, the "Shopping Green" campaign taught people how to buy, eat and manage waste in a healthy fashion. For this program a school in Hadshit, Bcharre Qaza, replaced sodas and mass-produced bottled juices with local fresh apple juice.

"Children ate healthier and some parents, who could not offer to pay the school fees, brought apples from their own productions instead."

That same year, Terre-Liban was approached by the European Union's Life Program, a financial instrument for the environment. They were given a $25,000 grant for another one of their projects: the "Environment Visitors."

"Thanks to this financial help, we were able to buy new sound system material and other equipment that allowed us to hold concerts around the country in a bid to raise awareness on the importance of nature," said Abi Rashed.

Abi Rashed has written a wide assortment of songs on topics like sea turtles, bird protection and much more. He also trains professors and holds conferences on environment-related topics.

Just like the rest of the members of Terre-Liban, Abi Rashed is very enthusiastic about what he does, which explains why the Terre team has rapidly grown to more than 100 members.

And after eight years of hard work and numerous successful campaigns, Terre-Liban was finally registered as a non-governmental organization (NGO) in 2002.

"When we started, our convictions were that NGOs were more political than ecological," said Abi Rashed.

Giving it even more of a solid footing in the country, the team rented a house in Baabda last year.

"We needed a place to implement our activities," said Abi Rashed.

Last June, Terre-Liban began a new project in cooperation with the Swiss Embassy, which aims at introducing children to gardening.

Over the summer 1,300 children enjoyed their gardening sessions. Open to all ages, children with special needs were also invited to attend the summer camps.

"We also have the square-foot gardening that is made to teach people to have their own vegetable garden on their balcony when they don't have enough space," said Zahi Boustani, a 27-year-old member, who, as he says "takes care of pretty much everything, from maintenance to workshops."

"Terre-Liban is a great institution to work with. I wish more NGOs worked more efficiently. We could have an amazing network in Lebanon," added Boustani.

Visiting the premises for the first time, the Geara family is quite impressed. Living most of the year in Spain, they were happy to have finally found someone who understands their eco-friendly behavior in Lebanon.

"We love the environment and tried to raise our children to respect it and love it too," said Yvette Geara, 52.

Originally from Jabal Habil, the Gearas spend each summer in Lebanon. "When we come to Lebanon it hurts to see how things are. We talk to people but they don't care," she said.

On different occasions, Yvette Geara has seen people throwing their garbage into valleys. "They simply open their car door and throw it down, as if then it would disappear," she said.

Back in Spain, the Gearas have three different containers to select their wastes. "When we come to Lebanon we gather the batteries and take them with us making sure they will be properly dealt with," said Yvette.

"Usually people laugh at us," said Esperanza Geara, 21.

For three months now, Tina Assaad, 18, has been in charge of the accounting and is taking part in the training sessions. The first time she was shown the small shop that gathers organic products and eco-friendly items, Assaad was quite surprised.

"First I thought I was going to work in a supermarket, I never imagined it would be like this. I saw children learning about the protection of the environment and they will surely go back to school and insist on sharing this with their school mates. As for the shop, people come from far away to buy those products because they know they are good and healthy," she said.

Beirut 04-10-2004
Linda Dahdah
The Daily Star

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