When a fire broke out around a small village called Ramlieh in central Lebanon, destroying most of the surrounding forest, few would have imagined that the devastation it caused would plant the seeds of development and conservation.
'The fire was a terrible thing,' remembers Monir Bu Ghanem, who was a 23-year-old student at the time the fire broke out. 'But instead of accepting it as fate, we decided to do something about it.' He and four young friends immediately set up an action group.
‘We wanted to plant trees, to get our forest back,' he says. One of the friends had an uncle who lent them some land; they transformed it into a nursery and grew 10,000 saplings. Soon their project spread from a village scheme to become a full-scale national youth action group.
The Association for Forest Development and Conservation (AFDC) was born and these young people began work on projects extending far beyond Ramlieh. Since the fire, a decade ago, they have planted 250,000 trees throughout Lebanon, and the original nursery has been extended to include a centre for eco-tourism and environmental meetings. AFDC collaborated with the Al Shouf Cedar Reserve to conserve cedars - the scented trees that are the country's emblem which once covered Mount Lebanon and beyond, but are now scarce. Ten years ago the reserve had a few ancient trees - and the 50,000 goats grazing the area ate new saplings, giving them almost no chance to grow.
Monir and his friends worked with the herders to persuade them to keep their goats away. In exchange, AFDC buys local jam, honey and other organic food, sells it, and gives the income to the villagers.
Thanks to the AFDC and Al Shouf Cedar Reserve collaboration, the reserve now has at least 250 plant species, and about 100 species of migratory birds visit the area. Every year more than 20,000 people visit the reserve to see what can be achieved by the belief and determination of a few young people.