Youth project revitalizes Sidon suburb

SIDON, Lebanon: Hundreds of citizens headed to the Sidon suburb of Boustan al-Kabir to join a project to rehabilitate the area, as part of the Al-Reaaya Organization’s “Reviving Neighborhoods” campaign. More than 250 youths worked together with members of the local community to revive the Al-Boustan al-Kabir neighborhood, which was once known for its citrus trees.

The neighborhood’s walls were refurbished, as participants painted and decorated them with lively drawings and fresh colors to help beautify the area.

The roadsides were cleared of waste and grass, and the pavement was repainted red and white. Waste containers were given new plastic covers, and Bousfeir (Satsuma orange) trees were planted in an attempt to preserve the neighborhood’s legacy.

The project, which brought together numerous institutions, associations and members of the community, will continue for the next five years, explained Ghassan Hankir, the project’s coordinator. “The goal is to develop neighborhoods.”

The youth initiative was launched by Al-Reaaya in collaboration with the municipality of Sidon and the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development, in partnership with local businesses.

Hankir explained that most of the project’s expenses have been paid by the city’s merchants. For each neighborhood, the cost of the primary phase is around $11,000.

“The work in this neighborhood [Al-Boustan al-Kabir] will be an experiment, work will be continued in other neighborhoods in the future,” Hankir said.

Sidon Mayor Mohammad Saudi voiced his support for the project, hailing the local community’s efforts.

“Our civil society is rich with human potential, which is capable of doing so much,” Saudi said.

“Today we see students, employees, and workers sharing with us the revival of Sidon’s neighborhoods ... this is the type of work that makes our society a fine one.”

Saudi noted that Sidon has come a long way on the environmental level – the city’ trash mountain has vanished and beaches have been cleaned along its coast.

Some of the decorations in Al-Boustan al-Kabir have been designed to incorporate public service messages, such as warning drivers to not use their mobile phones, drawing attention to the dangers of smoking, and promoting environmental causes.

The replanted Bousfeir trees will provide orange blossom water and create an aroma in the springtime, taking the city on a nostalgic trip back to its past.

“I am participating in cleaning the neighborhood and drawing. I drew on the wall a mother taking care of her small child as he crosses the road with her,” 11-year-old Reem Kello said. “I hope that [the city] will go back to how it was before.”

Kello’s father Omar said their family has been living in the neighborhood for 40 years, and stressed the importance of reviving Al-Boustan al-Kabir’s legacy.

“It’s true that we can’t remove the cement [buildings] that replaced the trees,” he said. “But we can replant the Bousfeir trees that the neighborhood was famous for ... paint the walls and maintain cleanliness.”

Sannia Makkawi said she would ignore those who might criticize her, as she wielded a shovel alongside other participants.

The 17-year-old high-school student explained that when it comes to preserving the environment, there’s no place to distinguish between tasks for men and women.

In fact, some were surprised that the number of female participants exceeded the number of males, with 150 girls and women taking part in the campaign.

“I am one of Abra’s residents, but I am participating today in cleaning the streets, removing the grass and painting the walls,” Makkawi said.

“We hold the shovel and pickaxe – this work isn’t restricted to men, what’s important is that we end up with a clean street that befits its residents,” she said.

The initiative has prompted many residents to refocus on group work, community development and reconnecting with their neighbors.

Dana Kazbar, who was uprooting weeds, explained that young men and women are joining the effort, and called on them to continue volunteering for the sake of the environment. “We have to apply what we study about the environment to the streets,” she said. “It’s the time to head to the streets and move away from technology.”

Razan Bou Zeid agrees. “There’s no time now for Internet, computer playing and lost time,” she said as she worked. “Our country and environment need us, why lose time when we can do something?”

On one of the neighborhood’s corners, volunteers adorned the once neglected walls with a street lamp, bench and a colorful tree.

Children and workers rushed to another corner to draw butterflies and flowers as Ahmad Habli, one of the participants, finished peeling an old layer of paint off the wall.

Mounira Hijazi, a resident of the neighborhood, said she was positively shocked by the effort.

“I never imagined that this ‘human beehive’ [could] do this,” she said. “The neighborhood has turned into a pretty painting.”

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