Twenty-two-year-old Soulaima Naji recently learned what it takes to run a small festival in rural Lebanon. She and her fellow Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) members partnered with the Municipality of Ehmej, 60 kilometers northeast of Beirut, Lebanon, to help them host their yearly Mouneh festival in support of small businesses and women.
“At the Mouneh Festival, we gained a lot of practical experience, especially when dealing with people from different ages and different backgrounds. We also learned from the local officials the importance of prioritizing and facilitating small projects and the importance of empowering locals for the best of the community and the whole country, despite the challenges we have been facing”
Soulaima and her peers helped the town leadership prepare for the festival by cleaning roads, pruning trees and setting up stands. On the day of the event, they welcomed every festival goer that entered the grounds and maintained a booth to inform people about the YCC project. They also led art and conservation-based projects for the children in attendance.
“The Mouneh festival requires a lot of preparation, facilitation and logistics. The YCC joined their efforts with the municipality and are considered the key facilitators of this event … We are very thankful for the program that brought them here and us together”
--the Mayor of Ehmej, Nazih Abi Semaan
The U.S. Forest Service worked closely with longstanding partner the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative (LRI) to adapt its domestic Youth Conservation Corps model to Lebanon and is thrilled to work with LRI to pilot the program with a group of 29 Lebanese youth ages 18-25. High unemployment among Lebanon’s highly educated youth population, compounded by the nation’s current economic crisis, provides an opportunity to engage young Lebanese in natural resource management activities that directly improve their communities, while also building employable skills and leadership potential through an intensive, residential program.
Soulaima and the rest of the YCC cohort will graduate later this month and will go on to join the workforce, attend university, and pursue careers in natural resources. The YCC has received great attention across Lebanon, and the Forest Service and LRI look forward to resuming the program with a second cohort later this year.
Read more about the U.S. Forest Service-supported Lebanon YCC program on their Facebook and Instagram pages.