Elderly Palestinian Refugees Get Hope from Urban Agriculture
ANERA’s urban agriculture project is crossing generational divides in Nahr El Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, which was mostly destroyed in 2007 during fighting between radical militants and the Lebanese army.
With support from Reach Out to Asia (ROTA), ANERA is revitalizing the greenery and vegetation of Nahr El Bared as part of the ENFE program (Enhancing Non-formal Education) that encourages the camp’s youth to create their own community outreach projects. The eight youths leading the environmental project proposed a sustainable agricultural plan to recreate the gardens that had been destroyed five years ago. They started with 20 homes from a marginalized neighborhood in the camp and, with the help of more than 80 volunteers and local families, they have planted more than 230 fruit trees and hundreds of vegetables to replenish the gardens that had been left barren when residents were forced to evacuate.
75 elderly camp residents find a sense of purpose by tending to the new vegetable garden.
Nine local community organizations are benefitting from the initiative. At Dar Al-Shayk-Khouha –Home for the Elderly– more than 75 elderly residents tend the new garden, filled with a variety of healthy vegetables.
Director Therese Daoud sees a wonderful change in the residents. “They gain from these plants because they are organic and healthy for them. We sell from the garden what they do not eat and these cover other costs.”
After receiving the contribution of seeds, trees, plants, flowers, and soil, Ms. Daoud and youth from Nahr El Bared visit the American University of Beirut (AUB) to learn about vertical planting methods, which ANERA already has developed in Ein El Helweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon. Ms. Daoud plans on covering every square inch of the garden wall with plants in order to maximize the organization’s abilities to provide to the elderly and the community. When she is able to return to her home in Nahr El Bared, she hopes to install vertical plants on her balconies and roof.
ANERA project transforms unused land into productive vegetable gardens for Nahr El Bared residents.
Mona Suleiman and her family are also beneficiaries. The mother of seven says she is faced with soaring prices for vegetables she needs to add to her traditional dishes, especially during Ramadan. But now she can cook her meals without worry, she says, thanks to ANERA’s program. “I am able to use the vegetables from the garden to make tasty dishes like fattoush, tabouleh, and salad. We also can eat the grapes during the summer and dry their leaves for use in the winter. I still have to buy some of the vegetables at the market but much less than before.”
The garden is used by her family and her neighbors, but Mona says it is more than just a food source. It has improved her family’s emotional well-being, she says, by providing a new vista of green, life-giving nature right in their backyard. Mona says the sounds of children playing in the garden and neighbors chatting on their balconies ease the cloud of depression and despair that hangs over the camp.
Bassam El-Qadi, ANERA’s field coordinator on the youth projects, has already begun collecting names to extend the program to 40 more homes. He says the project is about more than agriculture. “Gardening and agriculture are a part of history from Palestine,” he explains. “In our homeland, there were fields filled with produce of all kinds. These gardens are a way for us to remember our history, to remember who we are.”