Under the auspices of the Minister of Interior and Municipalities, Mr. Nouhad Al Mashnouk, represented by Judge Omar Hamza, Director General of Municipalities and Local Boards, the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative (LRI), a program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the United States Forest Service (USFS), celebrated community and municipal engagement in reforestation at the Beirut Symposium West Hall on June 26, 2015. The event was attended by heads of municipalities with whom LRI worked since 2011, members of the environmental committees and corresponding unions of municipalities and governors of those regions, along with local associations, non-governmental organizations, and civil society representatives.
The event was intended to thank the municipalities who collaborated with LRI in the first phase of the project and who successfully planted more than a half-million native trees. It was also aimed at encouraging those municipalities to continue using community engagement strategies in future projects and to participate with neighboring communities in the “twinning” program, an effort that was piloted in winter 2015, between the municipalities of Rmadiyeh and Seddiqine (South) and the municipalities of Rashaya and Kfar Denis (Bekaa), to build a partnerships between municipalities to share best practices in reforestation and natural resources management, promote inter-sectarian dialogue, and foster understanding between resident and refugee populations. Additionally, Mr. Fadi Baydoun, Head of Municipality of Rmadiyeh, Mr. Hasan Balhas, Head of Municipality of Seddiqine, Mr. Saed Mhanna, Head of Municipality of Rashaya, and Mr. Mohammad Hammoud, Head of Municipality of Kfar Denis shared their successful twinning experiences.
Judge Hamza and Ms. Carolyn (Teddy) Bryan, USAID’s Mission Director in Lebanon affirmed the importance of community engagement in carrying out sustainable reforestation projects and encouraged women to take leadership roles in local forest management. They also discussed the need to prepare local communities to engage with Syrian refugees in these efforts.
At the end of the ceremony, Community Engagement Tool Kits were distributed to the municipalities which will help replicate other reforestation and development projects using a community engagement approach.