Ibrahim's gardenIbrahim never misses DRC's agricultural classes at the local community center in Machta Hammoud in northern Lebanon. He dreams of opening his own nursery one day.
The scent of mint blends with the scent of flowers, thyme and rosemary.
"Come to see my garden," 20-year-old Ibrahim Ghanami shouts excitedly. His eyes light up as he points to cucumbers and tomatoes and explains how eggplant is a vital ingredient in the Arab dish 'maqloube'. He is especially proud of his grapes, though, because they require special care, he says.
The garden is not only Ibrahim's passion - it is also the foundation of his family's livelihood. The crops Ibrahim grow in the garden feed the whole family and enable them to make a bit of money from whatever extra they have. Ibrahim's gardening skills are crucial for the family and he is a main breadwinner for the family despite the fact that he is suffering from a life-threatening illness. At the age of 10, Ibrahim was diagnosed with a rare blood disease and had surgery. Shortly after, he was dismissed from school because he was absent too often. He therefore never learned to read or write. Throughout the past ten years he has had to visit the hospital every month to get blood transfusions - without it, he is at risk of dying. The disease has made him small for his age and unable to take on hard physical labor. Instead, he is putting all his energy into becoming a skilled farmer, and the money Ibrahim makes from working in fruit groves and nurseries covers his hospital bills as well as the family's household.
Orange dust is swirled up by a sudden breeze. The wind grabs an empty soda can and makes it dance along the street in front of the Ghanami family’s home. Besides the sound from the can it’s completely quiet. The silence as well as the vibrant colors of Ibrahim’s garden makes up a distinct contrast to the war and conflict that is raging on in its sixth year just a few kilometers away.
When the Syrian war came knocking on the roof
From the roof of Ibrahim's home in the village of Machta Hammoud in northern Lebanon you can see across the Syrian border. A few months ago, the war suddenly seemed even closer as a rocket hit the roof of the house.
"It was about midnight when we heard a loud bang. We immediately knew that it was a rocket and, of course, got very scared," says Ibrahim. Fortunately, the rocket hit the family's water tank on the roof but didn’t make any irreparable damage to the house and none of the family’s members were hurt. However, Ibrahim's younger siblings still ask nervously whether something similar could happen again. The incident has not made the family consider moving.
"Where would we go - to Syria?" says Ibrahim's father, Ali, laughing.
Ibrahim lives with his mother and father and three of his five siblings. The region is the poorest in Lebanon, and the family has never had much money. Still, as the civil war in Syria broke out causing hundreds and thousands of Syrians to seek security in Lebanon, it has had a major impact on the local economy and labor market. Today, the country houses more than one million Syrian displaced, and refugees make up more than one fifth of the country's population. Many of the Syrians have chosen to stay in border areas adding significant pressure on Lebanon's poorest families.
Ibrahim's father is unemployed and the family is dependent on the money that Ibrahim makes. He therefore didn’t hesitate to sign up when he had the opportunity to attend an agricultural training organized by the Danish Refugee Council's new Community Center. Together with other Lebanese youth, he is taught which crops are most financially sustainable and how best to take care of them.
Ibrahim listens carefully at the agricultural training. Most of the students are Lebanese youth from the local communities close to the border with Syria. PHOTO: DRC / Sebastian Rich
Ibrahim hasn’t missed a single lesson, and when the class is over, he goes home to apply his new skills in his own garden. Ibrahim's interest for agriculture runs in the family. His father Ali and his grandfather were both farmers. However, the training has inspired Ibrahim to experiment with new crops, he says, as well as the courage to take it a step further.
"The course has taught me how to grow fruits and vegetables that I did not know how to care for before and which crops I should invest in to ensure maximum income generation. It has been a unique opportunity, which hopefully will enable me to open my own nursery and sell the things I grow," he says proudly.
DRC’s Community Centers
Northern Lebanon is the poorest region in the country. The large influx of Syrian refugees has put a major strain on the local economy. Both refugees and the host population are fighting to meet vital needs such as health care, shelter and food. The pressure on the host community is increasingly creating tensions. To support the areas that have received the vast majority of Syrian refugees, the Danish Refugee Council supports the most vulnerable families among both refugees and local host population.
In our Community Centers both refugees and members of the local communities can receive help and assistance. The centers provide safe havens for children and women, which are vital to ensure the integration of the displaced in the host communities. In addition, the centers offer different activities and trainings depending on the requests from its users.
The DRC has activities in 30 Community Centers across the MENA region – several of the centers have been supported by the Ole Kirk Foundation.