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The Daily Star

Volunteers head south for reforestation
Environmental group gives urbanites the chance to get their hands dirty

Maha Al-Azar
Daily Star 

Combining fun time with productive work is how Green Line, the nonprofit environmental organization, managed to launch a reforestation project in a formerly occupied town in south Lebanon. Over a period of three weeks, the group will tap into urbanites' thirst for escaping into nature, away from the noise and pollution of the capital, to recruit much-needed volunteers for a reforestation project it has launched in collaboration with the Association for Forest Development and Conservation and the funding of the German GTZ organization, which runs a project to combat desertification out of the Agriculture Ministry.

The need for reforestation in formerly occupied southern towns was recognized after Green Line conducted a study in 2000 that helped map out the denuded areas in the South. According to environmentalists, deforestation in the South was partly the result of deliberate clear-cutting for warfare tactics, as well as forest fires and natural causes. With land mines still infesting the countryside, choosing an area for reforestation became a tricky task.

As a result, the Catholic diocese of Jezzine, whose monastery in Kfar Houne, Deir al-Mzeiraa, is surrounded by many deforested hills, was chosen as a partner in this $10,000 project, which aims to plant some 5,000 trees in a 10-hectare plot of land this year. “Having a reforestation project in the diocese's private land would ensure better follow-up and a stronger commitment to prevent goats from grazing in the land,” explained Ali Darwish, Green Line's president.

Goats are known to be harmful to tree saplings, which need proper care and protection for the first five to six years of their life, when they are very vulnerable to grazing. On Sunday, about a dozen volunteers arrived at the monastery and trekked the winding, uphill road through grass and mud to reach their destination.

“This is as close to heaven as we can get,” said Karim Jisr, one of the coordinators of the project and a Green Line member. Indeed, the sun-drenched location with the snow-capped Mount Hermon in view was wrapped in a soothing silence that would only be interrupted by the enthusiastic interchanges of the volunteers or the whooshing wind as it blew through the trees. It was this back-to-nature aspect that constituted the eco-tourism part of the trip.

Having become a key part of Green Line's weekend activities, eco-tourism provides day-trippers with the opportunity to explore lesser-known parts of the country and learn about their local traditions and treasures.

“This time we combined the eco-tourism activity with volunteerism,” said Darwish. Despite the “hard labor” they endured, volunteers dug and planted pine trees while exchanging typical jokes and other banter and expressing their satisfaction at working with nature.

“I wish we had such green spaces in Beirut ,” sighed Gisele Ishaq. “I feel as though I'm nurturing my own baby,” said Tarek Ayyash, an environmental technology graduate student who was planting a tree for the first time. By day's end, the 12 volunteers managed to plant about 400 trees, matching the previous weekend's tally.