Amy and David Roche inspire children in Lebanon to consider ecological sustainability
BY MARIA RIDING
What to do when working in a country grappling with a waste management crisis, struggling government, a refugee crisis and sectarian feuding?
CMS mission partners Amy and David Roche responded by launching an eco-friendly children’s initiative, Planting Cedars of Hope. “We had been living in Lebanon for a few years and saw that we could do more to care for the environment,” commented David. “More can be done for the country’s recycling, pollution and for global climate change. So we set up an essay writing competition for children to imagine the future of an ecologically sustainable Lebanon.”
The couple, in collaboration with the British Embassy, the British Council and Lebanon’s largest nature reserve, invited 110 schools nationwide, both public and private schools and from all faith backgrounds, to put their thinking hats on. They challenged grade six to eight children, aged 11–13, to consider what Lebanon might look like if they could change it for the better.
Winners from each grade could come to the Shouf Biosphere Cedar Reserve, home to 500 plant species and trees 2,000 years old, for a day to see up-close why it is so important to protect their country’s ecological resources.
David and Amy anticipated that half the schools might reply, but the response was much higher. Over 300 children from across the country travelled to the event on 17 November, where they hiked a 40-minute trail together and contributed to conservation by each planting a tree.
“This is surely one of the most beautiful parts of the country,” the UK’s ambassador to Lebanon, Hugo Shorter, said at the start of the day, looking out over the Shouf Mountains covered with cedar trees, Lebanon’s national symbol. “It’s heartwarming for me to see so many of you who have come from different parts of Lebanon here today united for a good cause: to help grow this reserve and share your brilliant ideas about solutions to environmental problems.”
Before the children headed off to walk the recently-opened Queen Elizabeth II trail, the Archbishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, also met with the children. And the Lebanese Minister for Education, Marwan Hamade, received copies of the three winning essays and handed out prizes to the winners.
The initiative had another motive: seeing youngsters from Muslim (both Shia and Sunni), Druze and Christian backgrounds hike a trail in unity is a fairly unique occurrence in Lebanon, a country still recovering from a devastating 15 year civil war which ended in 1990.
David explained that creating an opportunity for this unity was part of the vision. “The focus of this event was not only environmental restoration but reconciliation among faith groups across Lebanon who would not normally walk together. Our aim is that our Planting Cedars of Hope intentionally models to the children the vision of sharing together the future hope and care of Lebanon.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is that they should see themselves as owning the future of this country together. Where maybe some of the older people have given up or we failed, they can go forward and have success in this amazing country.”
Five marks of mission
As mission coordinators for a local Anglican church, Amy and David had wanted to find an occasion to engage with the Anglican five marks of mission. Based on Jesus’ summary of his mission, these points form the key statement about everything the Anglican Church does in this region. The fourth and fifth marks include aims to “pursue peace and reconciliation” and “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation”.
David explains, “This project touches them at several levels, contributing to the work of environmental restoration, continuing the post-civil war social reconciliation and marking this with the deeper Christian hope to see God’s goodness cover the earth. The Cedars of Lebanon are a powerful symbol of this hope.”
Even before David, Amy and three of their five children moved from France to Beirut in 2014, they had started to realise how troubled Lebanon was. On an exploratory trip several months before moving, David noted, “All places of worship have a military presence outside and at Sunday worship there was a lorry of soldiers by the church entrance. We could sense the undercurrent of tension between opposing factions and the persistent sectarian violence.”
Lebanon has also absorbed a huge influx of refugees escaping the atrocities of the Syrian civil war. The government estimates the number of refugees to be 1.5 million, which is a quarter of Lebanon’s population – and far more than any other country has hosted. It has put a huge strain on education and public services.
A waste management crisis erupted in 2015 when authorities closed down a landfill site near Beirut. Rubbish started piling up on the streets, attracting vermin, contaminating water and causing health hazards when people burned the rubbish. The problem is still ongoing. On top of that, corruption and internal feuding led to the country not having a cabinet or prime minister from 2014 to 2016.
These deep-seated issues were matters that Amy and David wanted to address through the Cedars of Hope project: “We chose this project because it goes to the heart of what needs to change in Lebanon. Lebanon is a beautiful country and yet the trash crisis is a metaphor for the issue of ineffectual political action because of corruption. There is also no teaching in the school curriculum nationally about environmental issues, and Beirut has terrible pollution. We wanted a project that can ask the future generation of children to consider what Lebanon might look like if they could change for the better.”
There was reason for hope on 17 November, seeing the children walk, talk and eat together. David said, “This is really an opportunity to take another much-needed small step in the work of reconciliation.” The team at the Shouf Biosphere Cedar Reserve were excited by the new initiative and are planning to turn the eco-project into an annual event.
Amy concluded, “To hear the imagination, the creativity that this younger generation have and to bring that together here in this beautiful environment has just been a really special day. I think for me the cedar tree is a real symbol of hope and the replanting of trees for the environment, but also symbolically for the future of the next generation of Lebanon. We are all God’s children and should celebrate that.”
The Call in Action: PRAY
- Pray that the young generation will see they own the future of Lebanon together.
- Pray for a long-term solution to the waste crisis in Lebanon.
- Pray for strength and courage for Amy and David to proclaim and live out the gospel in a way that transforms lives and communities.