Preserving Nature is Perfect Fit for Native Son

Image of Lebanese youth preparing plants
Group of Lebanese youth preparing to plant in their native village through funding and support from USAID.
USAID/LRI Lebanon Staff
Reforestation initiative in Aanjar, Lebanon offers employment opportunities and improves youth’s connection to the environment.
“The Aanjar community is delighted about this project that offers seasonal employment opportunities to at least 20 young people and is helping them conserve Aanjar’s native fauna and flora and beautify the area.”

Twenty-year-old Hrayr Kurdian was born and raised in Aanjar, a town in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. He has always loved the outdoors and prefers spending time in nature to surfing the Internet or playing video games like other young adults.

Kurdian moved to Beirut hoping to work, but found it difficult to adapt to urban life and missed Aanjar's natural surroundings. He ended up moving back to Aanjar but struggled to find work. With only 2,400 residents in the winter, the community offered few opportunities.

In November 2011, the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative (LRI) started the first phase of a three-year reforestation effort in Aanjar, the neighboring community of Kfar Zabad and other sites throughout the country. The LRI is a four-year, $12 million project funded by USAID and implemented by the U.S. Forest Service to provide technical assistance and institutional support for sustainable native tree reforestation and wildfire prevention in Lebanon. It is restoring the country's native forests through the planting of more than 300,000 trees, and promoting a national commitment to reforestation and wildfire prevention and response through capacity building of local forestry practitioners, communities and organizations at the grassroots level.

The LRI project is planting at two large sites on either end of a mountain that sits between the Armenian-Christian town of Aanjar and its mixed Christian-Muslim neighbor, Kfar Zabad, in a continued effort to link the two adjacent communities. The Aanjar-Kfar Zabad sites build on the work of a previous USAID-funded conservation project implemented by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon, a local environmental group that focuses on the conservation of Lebanon's rich biodiversity.

During LRI’s first visit to Aanjar, officials in the mayor's office suggested hiring Kurdian as Aanjar's forest guard and reforestation supervisor for the project. They knew of Kurdian’s love of nature and familiarity with the surrounding hills, which would become one of LRI's reforestation sites.

By February 2012, Kurdian, his friends and others in the community had successfully planted 36 hectares of the deforested mountainside flanking Aanjar and running alongside the road leading to Kfar Zabad. With their enthusiasm and passion, they had planted nearly 17,000 seedlings of native trees including edible pine, Lebanese cedars, carob trees, nettle and oaks.

LRI is providing them with financial and technical assistance. Its promotion of modern and efficient approaches to reforestation helps assure an increase in the survivability rates of the trees they plant.

In addition to their daily reforestation work, the group of Aanjar youth started its own program of environmental activities, from responsible ecotourism outings, including picnics and hikes in the mountains, to a few afternoons spent planting oak acorns in the upper edge of the site.

"The Aanjar community is delighted about this project that offers seasonal employment opportunities to at least 20 young people and is helping them conserve Aanjar’s native fauna and flora and beautify the area," said Garbet Sarkis Panpokian, Aanjar's mayor.

Last updated: September 22, 2014

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