Tag Archives: American University of Beirut

AUB project aims to instill sense of appreciation for biodiversity

19 Jan

Initiative helps communities share benefits of reforestation
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, January 19, 201

BOIRE, Metn: The Lebanese are traditionally a people who pride themselves on their ties to the land. Their flag depicts this through its symbol of a Cedar tree and their diet through staples like thyme, dandelion and other wild greens handpicked from the mountain side. But in an era of climate change, urbanization and desertification, the Lebanese are quickly losing sight of their country’s once enviable biodiversity.
In an attempt to reinvigorate grassroots interest in Lebanon’s native flora, the American University of Beirut’s Nature Conservation Center for Sustainable Futures (IBSAR), with help from the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service, each weekend invites volunteers to participate in its “Power of Planting” project. Planting in different locations throughout Lebanon, the volunteers join IBSAR experts and local residents in reintroducing a few of the country’s estimated 50-80 indigenous species.
The idea was born after massive forest fires wreaked havoc on Lebanon’s dwindling forests in 2007, explains Khaled Slim, IBSAR field coordinator and agricultural engineer. “We thought that we had to do something, and since we are a biodiversity research center, we decided on planting native trees,” he says.
The planting is achieved in partnership with the local municipality, who decide where to plant. So far, 40 villages have benefitted from some 10,000 trees or shrubs suited to the area’s soil type and terrain. IBSAR plans to plant about 40,000 more this year to coincide with the international year of biodiversity.
“There is a need for this kind of landscaping initiative,” says IBSAR outreach coordinator Arbi Sarkissian. “I’m calling it landscaping because we’re not [undertaking] reforestation. We’re planting within villages, not necessarily in rural and remote areas.”
Slim is more comfortable with the link to reforestation than his colleague, but notes it has to start at the grassroots level, with community involvement, rather than through government-led initiatives. “We are trying to decentralize reforestation activities to local villagers and inhabitants because they know their land,” he says. “If the people living in a place are not convinced that nature has to be protected, no one can protect it.”
With Lebanon’s forests today in dire straits, there has never been a better time for the IBSAR project. In the 1960s, forests covered more than 35 percent of the country.
Environmentalists now estimate that woodland stands at less than 12 percent, and with more people moving from rural areas to urban centers each year, further decreases look inevitable. As a result, more than 60 percent of the country is threatened by desertification, experts warn.
But ultimately, “it’s not just about planting trees,” Sarkissian says. “The power of planting is a concept about being aware of
nature in its dwindling state.” This is partly achieved through simply reconnecting volunteers, many of whom are city dwellers, with the land they are so dependent on, but so far removed from. IBSAR is also doing something government-led reforestation projects are not: planting native vegetation, such as judas, sweet almond or crabapple trees, rather than simply pine and cedars or introduced species like eucalyptus.
“There are five or six different species that are at the forefront of reforestation and a whole realm of other species that are left out of the picture,” Sarkissian says.
“If their populations dwindle even more, chances are they’re going to go extinct.”
Diversification is especially important, Slim notes, because it helps to create a natural protective barrier against fire.
This weekend, IBSAR was in the quiet Metn village of Boire, adding some much-needed green to the municipal hospital’s parking lot. After a few hours of weeding, the land was ready for the myrtle shrubs, carob, stone pine and maple tree saplings. After they were put into the earth, large rocks were placed around them to keep in the moisture and for protection, a process known as “mulching.”
The idea, Sarkissian says, is to eventually have the trees serve as natural seed banks for future planting projects. “We are looking to when these trees get big and bear seeds, to work with the communities who planted them in order to establish micro-nurseries,” he says.
The tree saplings planted in Boire are already one year old, and will start producing seeds in two or three years.
They, in turn, will be planted at the micro-nursery to be sold and replanted.
“We’re trying to help communities understand the importance of diversity and planting natives, and giving them an opportunity to partake in the economic incentives that come with it,” Sarkissian says.

Workshop aims to help displaced Iraqi professionals in Lebanon find jobs

22 Dec
By Dalila Mahdawi 

Monday, December 22, 2008

BEIRUT: Inaam is one of an estimated 50,000 Iraqis who have sought refuge in Lebanon, a fraction of the 2 million scattered across the Middle East, mostly in Syria and Jordan. Although she possesses a Masters in chemistry and is keen to find work, she is not entitled to that right.

According to a 2007 survey by the Danish Refugee Council, 77.5 percent of Iraqis in Lebanon arrived illegally, usually via Syria. As Lebanon has not signed the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, many Iraqi refugees could face arrest or deportation if discovered, let alone found working.

As a result, Inaam said most of her days were “wasted” at home. “If you don’t have a job, you get bored and start to feel as though you are less [valuable] than other people. You get depressed.” With no income, Inaam survives off aid and her rapidly diminishing savings.

There are thousands of highly educated Iraqis in Lebanon like Inaam facing the humiliation of being barred from pursuing a career or being forced to take casual jobs completely unrelated to their professional training.

Last week, the plight of Iraqi professionals was addressed by the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) International Medical Corps (IMC). On Wednesday it launched the “Continuing Medical Education and Continuing Professional Development Program,” comprising 10 workshops aimed at strengthening and developing the professional skills of Iraq’s educated elite. By the end of the program, some 200 Iraqi professionals will have benefited.

The workshops, developed and implemented by the American University of Beirut’s (AUB) office of Regional External Programs (REP) and funded by the US State Department, were providing a much-needed lifeline to Lebanon’s population of Iraqi professionals, said IMC medical director Haidar Sahib. “There is a thirst for these kinds of activities,” he said.

A dozen Iraqis participated in the first three-day workshop, “Finance for non-Financial Officers,” taught by AUB professors. While the issues covered in the first workshop were relatively broad, REP assistant vice president George Farag said the other workshops would be more tailored to professions such as medicine, business, teaching or engineering.

Inaam, who has cancer in her salivary gland, was so keen to participate that she came straight to the workshop after having a session of radiotherapy. “This is the first time in Lebanon the [Iraqi] intellectual community is being addressed,” she said. In fact, the IMC program is the first of its kind in the Middle East.


The goal of the workshops, said Sahib, was not only to upgrade the skills of long-idle Iraqi professionals, but to provide them with the expertise to ensure they found jobs upon resettlement or return to Iraq. According to Sahib, an IMC assessment of critical needs indicated that “one of the biggest gaps [in service provision] not only in Lebanon but across the region,” was in capacity-building.

The “huge displacement of professional Iraqis” meant the war-afflicted country was suffering from a shortage of skilled professionals at a time when they were needed most, he added. “Iraq is keeping up with the rest of the world in terms of technology – there are more than 14 million cell-phone lines and 1 million internet users,” Sahib said. “All this requires human resources.”

The program was also addressing the mental health and psychosocial needs of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon. Many of the participants said the workshop helped to restore their lost dignity, morale and self-esteem.

Haidar, who has an advanced degree in mathematics, lost his job as a day laborer because of his attendance. “I don’t care because I didn’t want to miss this course,” he laughed. “We have all had to work in fields inappropriate to our expertise, work that has humiliated us.” 

Suha, a social researcher who lives with her two sisters near Qana, just outside Tyre, said the Iraqi population in Lebanon was “keen to update their professional knowledge and pursue careers,” and hoped she would be able to join IMC’s future workshops. “It makes you feel as if your degree has value,” she said, wishing the workshops were longer.

“For a few hours at least, they feel as though they are not refugees but real professionals,” Sahib said of the participants.

“I don’t have the proper words to express my gratitude to the organizers,” Inaam said. “We are thankful to know there are people out there who care about helping us develop our skills and find careers when we go back to Iraq.”

Although IMC had limited funding for the workshop program, support officer Michelle Kayaleh said the NGO was hoping to expand its partnerships to continue providing capacity-building programs to Iraqi professionals and to create partnerships with Iraqi universities.


For more information, check out the IMC website at www.imcworldwide.org