Greenhouses Unite Syrian Refugees and Lebanese Farmers
The war in Syria forced Mouhamad El Sheli and his family to flee their bombed-out home in Homs into life as refugees in neighboring Lebanon. “We moved here with no job …meaning we didn’t have anything,” says the 28-year-old father of three young children. “I worked any job, olive picking, construction, any job so we can survive.”
The influx of more than one million Syrians into Lebanon, a country of just four million people that is roughly the size of Connecticut, has raised tensions with the increasing competition for jobs and scarce resources. Syrian refugees in Lebanon don’t live in large camps but are integrated in local communities, creating greater economic impact.
But Mouhamad found hope and the opportunity to make a steady income — and a Lebanese friend — by way of a greenhouse.
The Lutheran World Relief-supported Agriculture for Peace initiative, implemented in the north Lebanon villages of Deddeh and Batroumine, pairs a Lebanese farmer with a Syrian refugee in a partnership that provides income for both. Many small farms tucked in this hilly area near Tripoli have been passed down for generations and are no longer productive, as their owners have lost interest and expertise in agriculture.
Through this project, carried out with Lutheran World Relief partner LebRelief, greenhouses fashioned out of clear plastic stretched over steel tubing are erected on the property of a Lebanese farmer — with the proviso of a partnership with a Syrian refugee. The partners receive training in growing techniques and benefit from a market analysis that will help them to grow the most profitable crops.
Mouhamad is working with Omar Kassem al Ayoubi, a 54-year-old father of five children. He said he has struggled with his farm and appreciates the assistance he’s receiving. And he is grateful for the help of his neighbor and new friend.
There is another advantage to the partnership: Mouhamad is an experienced farmer, like many of his fellow Syrian refugees who often have more agricultural expertise than their Lebanese counterparts. “There was some fear of the Syrians at first, because they were coming and might be a burden for us in our country,” says Omar. “When we worked with them in the fields, we saw that they really have experience. They tell you this is right, this is wrong, there is pride in their work.”
“When the Syrians and the Lebanese work together, they succeed better,” he says.
Lebanese farmer Elias Daisy, 63, is looking forward to growing and selling vegetables the entire year. “This will improve our productivity, because the vegetables that don’t normally exist in winter will exist with greenhouses,” he says.
But the bounty from the greenhouse project goes beyond the produce. Elias’ partnership with Syrian refugee Mohamad Naasan, a 42-year-old father of 2, has the added dimension of bridging a religious divide that has long bedeviled Lebanon. Elias is Christian and Mohamad, like most Syrian refugees, is Muslim. But that is of no consequence.
“I don’t discriminate between Lebanese and Syrian, we are all family,” Elias says.
Mohamad echoes the feeling. “He and I are like brothers,” he says.