All the news coming out of Lebanon lately is garbage.
Oops, I mean it’s about garbage.
And since everyone else is covering garbage, I figured it would be nice to talk about something else that is happening in the country, because there always is so much more happening in Lebanon than what you see in the headlines. So I’m going to move from garbage to green.
On Saturday, I went with my husband, my daughter, and a couple of her friends, to Horsh Beirut. The 300,000+ square meter (74 acre) park comprises a whopping 70 percent of all green space in Beirut.
Notoriously, it has been closed to the public for the past 20 years.
There are exceptions. Permits are allowed to Lebanese who are 35 or older and provide a doctor’s note stating that they need exercise. And foreigners – at least Western-looking ones – have been allowed in without permits. But for the past two decades, your average Lebanese citizen has been stopped at the gate and denied entry.
Thanks to the tireless work of the NGO Nahnoo, after four years of fighting the good fight, the park has been reopened to the public. The opening is gradual: Saturdays only for the month of September, Saturdays and Sundays in October, and eventually, open every day. Nahnoo’s executive director, Mohammad Ayoub, explained that the measured reopening will allow the municipality to address any hiccups that might arise. Ayoub also said that around 100 volunteers for Nahnoo helped out with the park opening – disseminating park rules and making sure that all ran smoothly. Kudos to Nahnoo, its staff and volunteers, for their persistence in advocating for the opening of this important public space, and to the European Union and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for funding the project.
(My husband works for UNDP, which is how I knew about the opening. Seems that it was kept as a soft opening, and many people didn’t know until they read about it in Sunday’s paper.)
Yesterday I met a pair of Lebanese friends for coffee and told them about my visit to Horsh Beirut. Neither has ever been, and they asked what there was to do, considering if it might be a good place to take their kids.
Kids can bring their bikes, but adults won’t be allowed on bikes nor will there be a bike rental. The paths are dirt, so not great for scooters or skating. Balls are allowed, but no ball games. There isn’t any play equipment. There is a restroom, but in disrepair. A picnic is the obvious choice, but to that end it seems like there ought to be a lot more trash cans. On a brighter note, the greenery is lovely and well-maintained, and UNDP also funded a public water fountain that was recently installed (the first I’ve seen in Beirut!).
The conversation got me thinking about next steps for the Horsh…
Install a fitness course
Sprinkle workout stations along the trail that winds through the trees: a bar for pull-ups here, a stepping post there. A bench for dipping or sit-ups, a vault bar that parkour fanatics would love, a balance beam low to the ground that even young children can try…
Install a playground
Again, there are excellent resources online about how to design a playground made with anything from recycled tires to state of the art equipment. There are websites that provide guidance on how to build a playground, how to get grants, how to find corporate sponsors and more. For equipment, a company called Playmart caught my eye: they purchase post-consumer and post-industrial plastic to upcycle into playground products. (Wish they would open a factory here, Lebanon has plenty of plastic garbage it could sell!) This website even has a 117-page instruction manual for making playground equipment out of old tires (as well as inspiring images of parks around the world with beautiful construction and landscaping).
And if space allows,
Establish an area open to ball games. Whether that is a soccer pitch big enough for a five-on-five game, or just an area where friends can kick the ball around without worrying about the wrath of park security, it would be fantastic to have a space where kids can get some exercise and have some fun.
And with all the water & sanitation experts currently in the country to address the refugee crisis, I am sure we could find someone to give some advice on toilets!
Nahnoo has tapped EU & UNDP for the funding for its campaign; what NGO could take the next step in creating opportunities for play and exercise? Funders must be out there, maybe someone to support healthy spaces that benefit host communities and refugees alike? Gates, Aga Khan or Ford Foundation? Or a corporate sponsor such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nike?