Zena Khalil approached me a few years back after hearing about Ibsar’s ‘Seeds of Hope, Trees for Tomorrow’ campaign with a novel idea and one that was genuinely sincere to her principles. In 2008, her brother Nidal was about to get married and her family was planning a most extravagant wedding. Zena, meanwhile, was concerned about the pollution and degree of natural resources being used for the wedding; everything from the jet planes bringing guests from far and wide to the invitation cards, decorations and fireworks.
She proposed that she wanted to buy her brother something ‘green’ to counter the wedding pollution, and presented her idea about having a tree planted for every guest attending the wedding. Indeed, this was a wonderful gift idea, and probably the first of its kind in Lebanon. We proceeded right away in organizing to have pamphlets to distribute (printed on recycled paper of course) and looking into where we would plant those trees.
The wedding was absolutely splendid according to Zena, and the guests were quite moved by the gesture of the gift of trees she presented during her speech. On the wedding day, Zena helped us to plant a handful of cedars as a symbolic offering to the Beit ed Dine Palace where the ceremony and reception took place.
Two summers later, Zena contacted me to tell me her sister Lana was getting married and that; once again, she wants to do the same thing for her – 1,000 trees planted; one for every guest. The only catch was that Lana is an animal lover and, in fact, the ambassador of animal rights in Lebanon. She helped to establish an NGO for the care and protection of wild and domestic animals called Animals Lebanon (www.animalslebanon.org). This animal advocacy group is streamlining efforts to pass CITES in Lebanon as well as establishing laws into legislation for the protection of animals and administering fines for animal abuse cases.
Incidentally, Zena wanted something more than just having trees planted in villages, which has been the main objective of our Power of Planting program. She asked for us to think of how we can actually help in creating (or facilitating) more natural habitats for wildlife. This was indeed going to be a challenge as Khaled and I began to brainstorm as to where we would plant all 1,000 seedlings. It was finally clear to us that we should work directly with the protected area of the Al-Shouf Biosphere Reserve for it has a number of benefits (e.g. protected against hunting) and it too can use some rehabilitation of its forests.
Khaled met with his good friend and manager of Al-Shouf Biosphere Reserve, Nizar Hani, and they agreed on having seedlings planted in an important corridor of the fire road. Correspondence began between Lana Khalil, Nizar, Khaled and I as we were approaching an important date – World Animal Day (October 4th). Lana was highly enthusiastic to take advantage of this day through organizing an outing for members and advocates of her NGO as well as AUB students and the press. On October 3rd, a symbolic tree planting was organized by Ibsar in collaboration with Animals Lebanon and the Al-Shouf Cedar Society. The planting on this day set the stage for Ibsar’s 3rd planting season, which officially commenced on 16 October, 2010.
We organized a two-day planting trip for volunteers to plant in the Barouk Reserve planting site designated for Animal’s Lebanon that took place on the 13th and 14th of November. Over 20 AUB (and a few Animals Lebanon) volunteers participated on day 1 (Saturday) and planted a total of 200 trees, mainly Montpellier maples (Acer monspessulanum. It was relatively easy given that the Reserve had workers prepare holes for us earlier in the week. We were joined a bit later by SABIS students from Choufeit bearing a Lebanese flag and a reporter and cameraman from New TV (Al-Jedeed). I did the best I could in answering her questions in broken Arabic through simply stressing on the importance of organizing volunteering activities in nature conservation.
Day 2: Fehmi Sakkal, an AUB alumnus now working at the University’s CNS department contacted me wanting to take his group of scouts for planting so we organized to have them for Sunday’s planting in Barouk. The group was mostly recent graduates, some from AUB but most from other universities, but all were hard working, well-organized, and determined to plant 200 trees in less time then Saturday’s group. Indeed, they succeeded, and with only 19 participants, in planting Brant’s oaks (Quecus ithaburensis), wild pears (Pyrus syriacus), and wild apples (Malus trilobata).
A drip irrigation system will be installed at the site soon to ensure that the seedlings are irrigated properly. They brought in a fire truck with a long hose to irrigate the seedlings in the meantime. Now, all we must do is pray for rain…