By Ariel Miller, ESRAG Newsletter Editor

Planting hope in Lebanon

RC Beirut Cadmos President Gulshan Saglam and RC Ecco Lebanon President Rana Hindi planting a seedling.

Undaunted by hyperinflation, last year’s wildfires, and the horror of widening war in the Middle East, the Rotary Club of Beirut Cadmos succeeded in planting 2,000 cedar seedlings this year on deforested slopes of Mt. Lebanon. Through their project Arztak Hawytak (“Your Cedar, Your Stamp”), they are working to restore the biodiversity and beauty that have made the mountain town of Ehden a beloved resort for generations of families from Lebanon and abroad.  They are planting hope in Lebanon for a peaceful and prosperous future .

Samar Salman, District 2452 Environmental Chair, is leading the project for her club, RC Beirut Cadmos. Their original goal – now on pause because of the war – was to plant 4,000 seedlings. The reforestation provides income to local nurseries in the short run and will draw more tourism, reviving the battered economy. Part of the funds they raise will also go into environmental education for children and the community, to build an understanding of environmental sustainability which is missing from the regular curriculum.

As a marketing consultant, Salman works to help companies build sustainability into their business plans. She sees a huge opportunity for Lebanon to make the transition to solar power, both for environmental stewardship and to overcome the unreliability of the country’s current electric generation, where most households only have power an hour a day.

ESRAG reported on this reforestation project in May, when the Rotary Club of Beirut Cadmos was striving to raise the funds needed to win a global grant in time for the optimal tree-planting season, November. Worried after the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, I wrote to Samar Salman to find out how the project is faring. In reply, she sent jubilant snapshots of Rotarians from many clubs planting seedlings, after which they enjoyed lunch together.

The Club did not raise enough support to submit the Global Grant proposal this year. “Having said that, as we had 600 adopters who already paid for their trees, we decided to go ahead and plant a total of 2,000 cedar trees financed by the club and individual donors,” Salman wrote.   “We invited each club representative to plant a tree and feel the magic of reforestation. As a result, the President of RC Salmaniya personally contributed towards planting seven trees.”   Individual donors and representatives of clubs who have adopted trees had the fun of placing plaques with their seedlings.

Here’s a snapshot of a site visit to the project by members of the Rotary Clubs Salmaniya of Bahrain, Ecco Club Lebanon, Tyr Europa, Club de Beyrouth, RC Lebanon International, the project planting partner Jouzour Loubnan and the Rotary Club of Beirut Cadmos.  Tree adopters come from as far away as the Highton Rotary Club in Australia, embodying the worldwide solidarity of Rotary.

I asked Samar Salman how Rotarians can help in this time of war.

“First: by not taking side with either Israel or Palestine: take side instead with our humanity,” she replied. “Reconnect with it and stay true to our Rotarian values and mission.  Second: There will always be instability in the region. This should not be viewed as a barrier, but as an incentive to leave a greener legacy for generations to come by investing today in environmental projects in general and in Arztak Hawytak in particular!”